#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 #16 How to enjoy being an academic: Collegiality as Positive Practice

Sandra Abegglen, Tom Burns & Sandra Sinfield

This #Take5 blog focusses on three academics working collaboratively in their learning, teaching and research practice: as a way of helping us to better enjoy our time as practitioners.


All three of us work in UKHE, in a post-1992 University with a diverse student body from non-traditional backgrounds[1]. Our job descriptions vary, with TB and SS in staff development and SA as a course leader in Education; we are one full time and two fractional with heavy workloads[2]. Our institution has been through radical reconstruction, including a merger, the institution and then modification of AWAM[3] (Academic Work Allocation Model) and now, of course, the coming of TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). In common with many staff across the HE sector we experience constant pressure with little time for research and writing. Our response was to work more closely together, co-mentoring and co-writing to sustain our energy and our enjoyment of teaching.

How it started

Before the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching became completely staff facing in our new Centre for Professional and Educational Development (CPED), we had set up a module partnership where we shared our learning and teaching practice – and also our students. SA ran (and still runs) a Peer Mentoring in Practice module whose students mentored TB/SS students on Becoming an Educationalist. As we piloted our students through their tricky first year experiences, supported by those second year students, we discussed the what, why and how of our praxes: our ontologies and our epistemologies. From this emerged our first paper (Abegglen et al. 2014), and a determination to model collegiate academic practice to our students within and across our modules[4].  Even though our job titles and foci changed, we have continued to find ways to collaborate; to be collegiate.

How it works

Academia itself is a complex dance in complex landscapes of practice, navigating multiple tensions and meaning (Wenger-Trayner 2014). We discovered that co-mentoring and writing together, like cooking or dancing, required trust and continuous dialogue: ideas need to simmer and bubble before they are ready (Elbow 1998). Our writing relationship became a place of trust and oscillated and oscillates between the social and the personal, offering a space for our own academic identity-construction in this time of super-complexity and rapid HE change.

What we like about the way that we work together is that anyone one of us can suggest an idea for innovation – or share a reflection on current practice – or discuss a new approach or theory. An idea for a new paper emerges – and a draft then circulates – which we all add to, modify, edit and amend. The continuous writing/thinking circle provides intense moments of thought and engagement – mini-writing retreats – stolen from the busy working day.

This co-mentoring and co–writing has surfaced friendship, communication and support; we have wrestled with time and against time – but always supporting each other. We like working together – and from this (vaguely transgressive) behaviour has emerged our quite healthy academic output (e.g. Abegglen et al. 2015).

Our advice to others would be to set up similar support/writing/practice circles: to offer a resource, a helping hand and sounding board to each other; to make time for that which makes our work so enjoyable: thinking about ways to further interest, engage and stretch our students – and in the process to really enjoy being academics in these ‘interesting’ times.

Spaces to take your articles and reflections to?

Try ALDinHE: The ALDinHE Conference (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/events/hull17.html) and Journal (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/) are excellent places to take reflections about empowering academic practice.

Try #tlcwebinars: You might want to work up your ideas into a professional development session – and offer a Teaching and Learning Conversation (TLC) Webinar. The TLC Webinars are offered monthly via Manchester Metropolitan University in association with the Universities of Northampton, Salford, Surrey, Suffolk, Sheffield Hallam and London Metropolitan (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/about/).

By the way – the next TLC is on Tuesday 13th December, 12.00-13.00 on ‘Using Social Media to create a sense of belonging in students’ – and delivered by our colleague, Danielle D’Hayer (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/using-social-media-for-belonging-and-bonding/).

#Take5 blog: And finally – you might want to offer us a reflective blog post on your practice to share. Typically our blog posts are anything from 300-1000 words – and we are interested in any area of teaching, learning and assessment practice. Send your ideas for posts to t.burns@londonmet.ac.uk or s.sinfield@londonmet.ac.uk – we look forward to hearing from you very soon!


Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2015). Voices from the margins; Narratives of learning development in a Digital Age. The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 1(1).

Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2014). Disrupting learning landscapes: Mentoring, engaging, becoming. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning. London, 9, pp.15-21.

Elbow, P. (1998, 2nd Edition). Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford UP.

QS Top Universities (2013, 10th Edition). Worldwide university rankings, guides & events. Retrieved from http://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings

Wenger-Trayner, E. (2014). Learning in landscapes of practice: Recent developments in social learning theory, in Association for Learning Development in Higher Education. ALDinHE 2014: Learning development spaces and places. University of Huddersfield, 14-16 April.

Ziker, J. (2014). The long lonely job of homo academicus. Retrieved from https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/

End Notes

[1] Our HEI comes 18th in the QS World University Rankings for the international diversity of its student body (10th edition, 2013).

[2] Viz. Ziker (2014): ‘On average, our faculty participants worked 61 hours per week. That is 50 percent more than a 40-hour workweek’.

[3] AWAM: Academic Work Allocation Model – where all 1492 of an academic’s annual hours were micro-managed – as opposed to the old HE model, where FT academics were allocated 550 teaching hours – and had some control over the rest of their time. Whilst AWAM no longer formally exists – we have defined teaching and overall working hours in which everything we do needs to fit regardless.

[4] Acknowledging that the formal education landscape traversed by our students is hostile, often alien and typically judgemental, we decided to take an embedded approach to the ‘enhancement of practice’ to develop student apprehension of the codes and practices of HE in authentic ways. Thus in the year 2014-15, alongside an embedded ‘blogging to learn’ project, we also stated as an aim in our Module Monitoring Logs that we intended develop and model collegiate practice to highlight to students a more positive side of university culture and learning in general.

#Take5 No.15: The Best Teaching and Learning Conversations

TLC: The Best Teaching and Learning Conversations


Happy new academic year! This year, #Take5 is celebrating MMU’s Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC). These free, open online conversations offer an exciting informal cross-institutional collaboration to provide joint CPD opportunities for everybody teaching and/or supporting learning in Higher Education.

Manchester Metropolitan University with London Metropolitan University, Northampton, Surrey, Suffolk and Sheffield Hallam universities are organising these monthly Webinars to bring together colleagues from different disciplines, institutions and countries to engage in Teaching and Learning Conversations.

Together, we will discuss and debate a variety of current teaching and learning topics in a series of monthly webinars which will be a great opportunity to reflect on our practice but also share good practice and find out what is happening beyond our own institutional walls in the more global HE landscape.

All webinars are open to the wider community to join and will be advertised locally at participating institutions but also via social media channels. Please feel free to share the link to the TLC programme and individual webinars with others who might also be interested. Have look at the programme below, and read the instructions on how to participate.

TLC now has its own blog where you can find more information about each Conversation – and where links to recordings of previous sessions will be flagged up.

Come to the Next TLC:

Using poetry in teaching #TLCwebinar with Dr Sam Illingworth, join us on the 18 Oct, 1.30pm UK time

In this interactive session, Sam who is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, will discuss how poetry can be used as a facilitatory tool to explore a variety of subjects in higher education. Further details and information about Sam can be found on the TLC website at: http://wp.me/p6HUdF-7F

Joining the conversation:

Simply follow this link http://mmu.adobeconnect.com/tlc/ and enter as a guest by typing your name, institution and country into the name field and clicking on the “Join Meeting” button.

Whether or not you have previously participated in a webinar or online activity using Adobe Connect we advise that you make sure that you do some checking and preparation in advance. Check your set-up and connection here. You may also find our Adobe Connect Webinar Participant Guide useful to print out in advance of the session. We really hope that you will be able to join for what should be a lively and highly interactive TLC.

We are really looking forward to discussing poetry with Dr Sam Illingworth and all of you.

#Take5 #14: The best way to SLOW down and focus?

Close your eyes and relax…

Sam Aston and Helena Ross from The University of Manchester, have been focussing on wellbeing and meditation to help students calm down, relax and focus. Here in this #Take5 blogpost they share their techniques and strategies – and invite us to share our practices with them.

Sam Aston is a Teaching and Learning Librarian working in the Learning Development Team at the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons at The University of Manchester Library. She works on My Learning Essentials to deliver skills support and is currently applying for senior fellowship of the HEA and conducting a research project on academic skills expectations of transition students as they move into HE. You can find her on Twitter @manclibrarian

Helena Ross is a full time student studying sociology at Manchester and is a member of the student team the Library employs. The team work on a number of different projects alongside permanent staff, examples of this are collecting survey data from students, recording podcasts for My Learning Essentials and assisting with events across the Library to name a few.  

Close your eyes and relax…

In response to recent talk about the value of slowing students down to allow them to rest and reflect, we thought about what we do to support students here at the University of Manchester Library. Wellbeing features strongly as a strand within My Learning Essentials (MLE) programme of skills. MLE works with partners in The University’s Counselling Service to deliver sessions as part of the overall development programme. Throughout the year Counselling delivers sessions entitled ‘Calm your brain/learn to concentrate’, ‘Making the most of your mind’ and ‘Challenging unhelpful thinking habits’ and they are well attended.

This week, exams have started at The University of Manchester. Students are feeling the pressure building up to perform to the best of their abilities and this can distort their focus. During the exam period we dedicate more time to the pastoral care of our students, offering ‘Calm your brain and have a croissant’ sessions, acknowledging the fact that we operate in a 24-hour building and that students should have breakfast to get themselves off to the best start.

During this time we will often ask students to sit and meditate at the beginning of the workshops that we facilitate. For three to four minutes we ask the students to close their eyes and to focus on nothing but their breathing whilst relaxing their bodies. Students have responded well to this, and, though they look a little surprised, when asked they usually join in.

Another way that we promote mindfulness is using the MUSE headbands (http://www.choosemuse.com/) which are a helpful way to teach mindfulness meditation techniques. They allow you to work through progressively more challenging exercises at your own pace and record your progress, helping to build confidence and gain a better understanding of how to calm your brain.

While the headbands and iPads are an exciting showcase of the new technology that students can access through the Learning Commons, with practice students can use the meditation exercises they teach independently, whenever they need. While headbands allow students to practise the techniques and give a better understanding of how mindfulness helps the brain, the meditation exercises themselves can be beneficial in all kinds of situations from sleeping soundly to gathering your thoughts in an exam. Most of the exercises are only a couple of minutes long, making them a suitable choice for students who don’t feel as if they have the time to attend a full-length meditation session (these people are also likely to be those in most need of relaxation techniques!) and can even fit into the short breaks recommended for productivity by techniques such as Pomodoro.

There is no one ‘type’ of student who will particularly benefit from MUSE or the meditation workshops – after all, stress is one of the most universal issues that students deal with in university. Short mindfulness breaks can be just as useful in helping students who are disorganised and who struggle with procrastination as they can be in encouraging those who overwork themselves to take time out when they need it! 

We are sure that there is more that we could be doing and we would be really interested to hear from others about their approaches to supporting the wellbeing of students or staff.