#Take5 #44 The best way to run our Journal?

Reflections of a journal editor.


The Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (JLDHE) is  ALDinHE’s flagship publication – and as we near the end of the brilliant LD@3 which has replaced #aldcon this year we wanted to bring you news of JLDHE and the way it is changing.

This blog post is brought to you by Alicja Syska, the Co-Lead Editor at the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, based at the University of Plymouth. After taking over the Journal and overseeing the revamping of its online platform, she wanted to share her reflections on the journey with the Learning Development community, which responded in the most welcoming manner to the new shape and mission of JLDHE.

The fanfare

‘That’s why I emailed. Things like that [revising the whole JLDHE online format] take forever and the outcome is just a short email to tell everyone when really you deserve a fanfare!’

… one colleague wrote to me in response to our recent announcement that we launched a new website for the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. Another added, ‘the site is now bookmarked and I’m eager to be more research informed’. These and other kind words from fellow Learning Developers were both balsam for my soul and strong affirmation that what we do matters a great deal.

Pic: New look JLDHE

When we produce something for the world, we make ourselves vulnerable. It is our baby, our creation, and now it’s out there for the taking: both a gift to the world and a creative open wound that bleeds with criticism and heals with love and appreciation.

The baby

Even in journal years though, we’re not a baby anymore. In fact, John Hilsdon, who had been the father figure of JLDHE since 2008, decided last year that it was ready to stand on its own feet and set sail into new waters. I was elated and a bit stunned to be chosen his successor, mostly because English is not my first language and because – beyond my absolute passion for editing and my dedication to rigorous standards – I felt that I was still not experienced enough as an editor. Crippling doubts nagged at me, who was I to do it?

Pic: John Hilsdon, JLDHE founder and Alicja

The joke

There is an old and much loved Polish joke (which I will modify here slightly) about a Stormtrooper, a Musketeer, a Polish resistance fighter, and the devil riding in a hot air balloon. The balloon is falling and the devil wants everyone to jump to save himself, so he says to the Stormtrooper, ‘You must jump – it’s an order’, and the Stormtrooper jumps. Then the devil turns to the Musketeer and after commanding him doesn’t work, he pleads, ‘You will look very glamorous on the way down, and life is meaningless anyway’, and the Musketeer jumps. Finally, the devil approaches the Pole and nothing works to convince him, so he exclaims in resignation, ‘You! You will never jump!’, and so the Pole jumps. The moment this seemingly impossible opportunity opened to me, I knew I would do it (or die trying!).

The teacher

A long learning curve awaited but John was a generous teacher. We worked closely together throughout 2019 and by the end of the year, I had a clear idea of where I wanted the Journal to go and how to optimise its service for the Learning Development community. Building on my experience with John, I chose to retain the collaborative nature of journal management, and was delighted when Gita Sedghi offered her time and enthusiasm to join me; we are currently co-leading JLDHE.

The team

The Journal’s exquisite editorial board has been the strength of JLDHE since its inception. We are currently a small team that includes Christina Howell-Richardson, Gita Sedghi, Craig Morley, Cathy Malone and Eleanor Loughlin, with Andy Hagyard serving as our technical support (and without whom our new website would have probably taken at least another decade to materialise) and Christie Pritchard as our link with ALDinHE. The range of expertise among our editors is truly humbling and their ability to serve as the first responders to our authors, and to do so in a supportive, constructive, and professional way, constantly impresses me. They always seem to find the perfect balance between ensuring high quality of the submissions and being careful not to discourage new perspectives and bold ideas in the field of Learning Development.

The future

We have now left behind a full decade of publishing quality papers – around 250 pieces written by nearly 500 authors and guided by a couple dozen editors and scores of reviewers – and began a new decade of innovations and bold initiatives. This year, we have expanded the range of submissions we accept, established a Conference Special Issue as an annual tradition, and initiated a new support system for our peer review process. We appreciate the hard work our reviewers put into ensuring rigorous publications and endeavour to give back by developing training resources and mentoring opportunities that will strengthen existing relationships and nurture a new generation of reviewers in Learning Development. The first of these initiatives was our webinar as part of LD@3 chats, but we will be introducing more in the summer.

The rewards

Leading a journal might be a considerable pressure on one’s time and resources, but it also offers innumerable rewards, such as witnessing the development of new ideas in the field and intoxicating designs in emerging research. It involves closely watching critical reflections on pedagogic approaches and formulation of recommendations for best practice to LD colleagues and beyond. It means participating in dissemination of ideas that push our state of knowledge and understanding about how students learn just a little bit further. I cannot imagine a more exciting intersection of thinking, reading, practising, and promoting what we do in Learning Development.

Your turn

Being ALDinHE’s flagship publication and seeing ourselves as an essential part of the LD community, we strive to draw on its expertise to energise and empower new and established writers developing research in Learning Development. Thus, we encourage you to respond to our calls for reviewers that we periodically post to relevant JISCmail lists (LDHEN, SEDA, EATAW) so you can offer your professional opinion on colleagues’ work and help us support emerging talent. You might also be interested in joining our editorial board at some point. Say ‘yes’ to our invitations to publish with us too – we will all benefit from your expert knowledge. We are closely following the sessions run by LD@3 and looking forward to the presenters submitting their articles for JLDHE’s Special Issue on the 2020 ALDinHE Conference, to be released in Autumn/Winter 2020. We have a steady presence on Twitter too, all designed to keep the conversations around publishing in Learning Development dynamic, strong, and current.

I hope you see the Journal the way I see it: as a lively, dynamic and welcoming space to disseminate your sweat and tears, also known as writing.


Alicja currently leads the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. Not content with being contained in one identity, she is a Polish-British hybrid academic – part Learning Developer part Lecturer in History, both at the University of Plymouth. Despite short professional stints with engineering and pharmaceutical companies, she has never really left HE, always returning to working with students as her main professional driver. She is a Fellow of Advance HE and a Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development, a firm believer in the one-minute rule and a self-proclaimed deadline junkie – she credits both for her productivity.

Pic: A little bit of Plymouth University

#Take5 # 43 The best way to game-ify Learning Development?

This blog post is brought to you by Craig Morley, a Learning Developer at the University of Manchester Library, whose Source Top Trumps resource won the LearnHigher prize draw at the ALDinHE 2019 Annual Conference – and which we are really happy to celebrate during this alternative version of the ALDinHE Conference: LD@3!

We open with a brief overview of LearnHigher, indicating how you might offer your own resources for consideration.

That LearnHigher experience

Learn Higher supports learning developers by promoting and facilitating the development and dissemination of high quality, peer-reviewed resources for learning development. To further support our successful resource authors we invite those with high ratings to provide a paper on their resource. One of these is then chosen by the working group to be submitted as the LearnHigher entry for inclusion in the ALDinHE newsletter and Take5 blog.


Dr Craig Morley’s Top Trumps resource is designed to introduce students to a variety of ‘information sources’ – from which to access information, learn and complete their assignments – and to begin to think critically about these sources. It was approved by the LearnHigher panel for acceptance onto the site as we felt that adding some gamification to learning development sessions was a very positive step that would engage students in their learning in a fun and active manner.

You can do it too

The Learn Higher site offers a vast range of free learning development (LD) resources submitted by LDrs for use by LDrs. Having a resource accepted to Learn Higher not only engages you in the LD community but can also be used towards gaining your CEP/CELP accreditation (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/development/). Submitting a resource is easy, just click on the ‘Submit Resource’ tab on the Learn Higher webpage (http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/submit-resource/) and follow the guidance.

(The LearnHigher Working Group)

Craig’s ‘Source Top Trumps’

Craig is a Learning Developer at the University of Manchester. He has worked in higher education for over nine years in a variety of positions, teaching both history and learning development across three institutions. Craig is an editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, Chair of the North West Academic Libraries (NoWAL) Academic Skills Community of Practice and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Craig can be contacted at craig.morley@manchester.ac.uk

Why and how I decided to develop this particular resource

I decided to develop this resource as a way to make introducing the basics of information literacy (and the potential value of utilising a range of different sources of information) to new students more fun – for both students and myself!

As learning developers and librarians, introducing students to the different types of sources they will encounter throughout their studies is at the heart of our early interactions with new students. Early requests from academics to embed library inductions or referencing support into the curriculum tend to include a focus on what sources students should be consulting in their disciplines. For me, this makes these sessions doubly important. Firstly, it is our chance to make a good first, and lasting, impression on students. The better job we do, the more likely students are to see us as a genuine and credible source of expert support throughout their time at university. Secondly, the better students understand the sources they can use, the better their prospects in assignments.

From my own experience, it is easy for this to become didactic, with interaction limited to little more than asking students to draw up lists of pros and cons of each type of source. I know this is not the case for everyone and I have seen some really great examples of activities that can be used to introduce sources – LearnHigher, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, and the ALDinHE annual conference are all fantastic spaces to find new ideas. But, I always found delivering these sessions quite challenging!

Gaming the system

So, during the summer I spent a lot of time wracking my brain about how I could improve my approach to introducing sources. Sessions had already been requested and booked in for September and October, so I had to think fast! Luckily, I had been reading a lot about playful learning and gamification around the same time, which sparked my imagination and brought back some childhood memories! Top Trumps, with their rankings and battles, seemed perfectly suited to get students thinking about which sources were most appropriate and academically credible for their own research. Battling journal articles, book chapters and newspapers may not be as exciting as battling Star Wars characters or football players – but, hey-ho, I decided to give it a go (rhyme intended!).


First on the to-do list was to create the Top Trump cards themselves. I used Canva for this. I am not a creative person in the slightest – drawing stick-people is the height of my artistic talents! Luckily, Canva makes putting all sorts of designs together relatively easy. Once I had a template, it was straight-forward enough to make different cards for different sources. The ‘basic’ deck of Source Top Trumps can be seen below. I also created an ‘information pack’ for each card, which had background information on the strengths and weaknesses of the sources. Students used these packs to decide how to rate the different sources.

Resource usefulness

My own suggested steps for how to use the Top Trumps can be found on the resource page in LearnHigher. Although, *spoiler alert*, that is not the only way they can/have been used (more on that later…).

I have used the Source Top Trumps with first year Nursing, Midwifery and English Literature students, adapting the deck slightly for each group. I believe using the Top Trumps made these sessions much more effective and enjoyable than ones I had led in the previous year. They completely changed the focus of the session from teacher-centred to student-centred. Rather than being told by an ‘outsider’ what sources they should be using in their own disciplinary research, students used the Top Trumps to identify which sources they should prioritise themselves. My own role was changed from directly leading the students to the ‘correct’ answers to facilitating students to find their own answers. My hope was that by playing a game to discover the pros and cons of different sources and battling sources against each other, the students would be more likely to search out and use the ‘better’ sources in their own research and work going forward.

One of my worries was that while I had been able to use Top Trumps for small-groups, would they work with larger groups? Luckily, my colleague, Francesca Robinson at UCLan, found a way to answer this (Thanks, Fran!). Fran used Google Forms to let students enter joint, agreed-upon scores for each source type. An example of the Google Form she used can be seen here. I think this shows how adaptable the Top Trumps can be with a little imagination – they can be used with small and large groups both online and offline.


Tips for running the activity

A few tips I’d share from using the resource!

  • Confidence – like with any playful learning it’s important to ‘sell’ the activity to get students involved.
  • Relaxed – it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself and the activity itself as part of the fun: don’t take things too seriously!
  • Know the rules – any good ‘dungeon master’ needs to be on hand to solve any disputes or questions. Things can get competitive!

Impact and Feedback

I haven’t done any detailed evaluation of the long-term usefulness of the resource yet. However, from informal feedback I received from students and lecturers, students seemed to enjoy using the Top Trumps and found the activity useful in preparing for upcoming assignments. The Top Trumps were also received well by colleagues who had a go at playing the game at an ALDinHE regional symposium on Innovative Approaches to Learning Development at the University of Salford in July.

Enjoyed learning about the card games. Will definitely be looking at
using Top Trumps or a version of it in my sessions.”

“Excellent-will be using Top Trumps and Faculty Fortunes sometime

As with most elements of playful learning, some students found the Top Trumps activity childish. Although it is interesting that this view came more from English Literature students, rather than the Nursing and Midwifery groups, which had more mature students.

Your Turn!

If you’re interested in using or adapting the Source Top Trumps please do let me know how it goes and what you changed!


Craig is a Learning Developer at the University of Manchester. He has worked in higher education for over nine years in a variety of history and learning development positions across three institutions. Craig is an editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (http://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/issue/view/29), Chair of the North West Academic Libraries (NoWAL) Academic Skills Community of Practice and Fellow of the HEA.

#Take5 #42 The best way for Learning Development to tackle #Covid19?

So what’s the problem?

“I have had to contain the anxiety not only of students but lecturers who are new to this way of working.” LondonMet Academic Mentor

The coronavirus (#COVID-19) global pandemic has presented many challenges for Learning Developers. This #Take5 blogpost is brought to you by Lee Fallin from the University of Hull and Sandra Sinfield from London Metropolitan University and ALDinHE and focuses on the challenges for University staff and students of moving learning online and some of the issues it raises for us as learning developers. Reflecting on our experience so far, we’d like to think we present some solutions to these issues, and we conclude with our suggestions for staying connected as a Community of Practice. We hope you enjoy the read and are keeping yourselves safe.

Learning Development in a time of crisis

The majority of this blog post reflects on the experiences of the Skills Team at the University of Hull and our move to an all-online service due to COVID-19. The Skills Team has a wide remit running appointments, workshops, self-help, integrated module teaching and Peer Assisted Student Sessions. We cover learning, writing, information literacy, digital literacy, digital skills and research skills for students and academic/research staff.

As a Team, we were fortunate to have access to Adobe Connect, a webinar tool that we have been using for a couple of years to facilitate most of our workshop programme. We also have a couple of team members who have design and coding experience, allowing them to edit the website and our booking technology to reframe the service at pace. This allowed us to move from a face to face service to an online one in the space of a day. We are also lucky to be a part of the University Library, and so have access to a wide range of resources in our directorate, including LibApps which has made much of this possible.

The Skills Team have maintained our service through a mixture of video recordings, webinars, phone calls, emails and live chats. Where it has been pedagogically appropriate, we have offered Adobe Connect sessions at the same time as a previously scheduled activity. This has included the substantial re-writing of content to facilitate new online interactivity. All such sessions are recorded to be shared with anyone who may not have been able to attend due to care obligations, homeschooling or other responsibilities. Where live sessions have not been appropriate, we have created new YouTube videos and shared these with students with instructions for self-paced learning. This is supported by our new Remote learning SkillsGuide (but more on that later!).

We’ve also tried some new things along the way. We’ve joined the wider staff from the University Library on their livechat function, allowing students to connect with one of us for text-based chat (powered by LibAnswers). We’ve also supported the ramping up of the University Library’s social media presence, now allowing students to directly message us on Twitter and Facebook. These are triaged by Library staff in LibAnswers and passed onto us if it is learning development or skills related.

As a result, we have not cancelled any service or session without providing an appropriate alternative on the same timeline. This has been a tough time in many ways, and a steep learning curve, so we are sharing here some of the highlights of what we have learned so far in terms of moving learning development online.

The problems of online learning development sessions

Communication technologies like Skype, Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect and Microsoft Teams can help us connect with students and maintain services. While this is a great way to mimic the interactivity of face to face sessions, they don’t work for everyone. Learning developers have a difficult time ahead, balancing service continuity alongside service accessibility.

There are many learning developers in ALDinHE who work exclusively in an online context. Such learning developers also work with students who chose to study online from the start of their studies. The global pandemic has thrown both learning developers and students into a situation they may have purposefully avoided. Not all students will have access to the hardware or internet connection required to take part. Their technical skills may have ill-prepared them for this kind of study – or they may just genuinely be uncomfortable with this type of communication. Some learning developers will have reservations about technology too!

For some students, this leaves email or telephone support as a fallback, and it is incredibly challenging to facilitate a learning development session by these means. A telephone call takes away useful visual cues and can make looking at student work with them challenging. While they can share work beforehand, they lose some control over it in doing so. It is also difficult to tell if they are benefitting from the session.

An email appointment falls too close to ‘marking’ or assessing student work. This may break one of the most important of the ALDinHE professional values, ‘working alongside students’. The second we are perceived to be assessing student work, we place ourselves as the powerful, knowledgeable practitioner, dictating changes to the student. This is not to say email support is inappropriate. We just need to be careful about how we facilitate this. Given the pandemic, some will question if we should blur those boundaries – just to help students get through this. This is definitely something that individuals need to reflect upon.

Helpful guidance for online learning development

This is based on our experience of launching all of our services online, including some of the initial learning along the way:

  1. If using webinars, provide detailed instructions on how to use any required technology. Where possible, provide students with a test link or room.
  2. When arranging appointments, always give students an opportunity to dictate how they want to communicate. Some will want to speak through audio/video, some will wish to text chat, some will want to listen to you and type back.
  3. For live sessions, try to give students an alternative. Where they cannot use web-based synchronous technology, consider offering email or telephone support. Recordings and videos can also help.
  4. Experiment with different times of day if you are having connectivity issues. We’ve tried to avoid teaching before 10 am as early-morning meetings seem to slow down everyone’s connection to the internet and webinar service.
  5. Ask students! The only way we can know what they want is through dialogue. This is a very new experience to many, so try to give students the opportunity to give feedback on services.
  6. You can say no. Sometimes a live session is not pedagogically appropriate. We created a whole new suite of self-paced online learning to replace our on-campus sessions based on software. As students need to be able to follow along, it is not possible to facilitate via webinar.
  7. Think of the circumstances. In the context of a global pandemic, we may need to change the rules of engagement to ensure access to learning development. For example, in this context, is an email appointment okay?
  8. Be very wary of free tools. If you are not paying for them, you may be putting the data and privacy of you and your students at risk. Speak to your University legal teams and ensure any services you use are fully GDPR compliant.

Example from the Skills Team webpages

Booking an online appointment

Providing the option for telephone and email appointments

Self-help and guides

For many learning developers, enabling ‘self-help’ is a crucial way to support large numbers of students. For this reason, most institutions offer study guides on their website or institutional VLE. Unlike appointments and workshops, such guidelines are available 24/7 and to all students at the same time.

While guides do not offer the dialogue of student-learning developer activity, they are at least a fall-back and do promote student independence. However, because of the sudden move to remote learning due to the pandemic, many of these guides may have a gap. What do students need to know about remote learning?

Filling the gap – Remote learning SkillsGuide, a repurposable resource

#COVID-19 is probably already causing numerous anxieties and issues for our students. The sudden move to remote learning will create many more – for students and staff. While some aspects of learning will not change under the new near-lockdown regime instigated because of the global pandemic, others will.

Learning and socialisation are nearly inseparable. With months of social distancing and perhaps near-lockdown ahead, students will need support with what this means for their learning and wellbeing. Students will also need to adapt to the introduction of webinar and video. There is a real risk they will fall into the trap of treating online learning like they would YouTube videos or TV. Just like a lecture; videos and webinars still require notes, reflection and internalisation. The biggest issue, however, may be technology, with some students having chosen their programmes to avoid it. While universities are doing the right thing and working hard to help students continue their studies, the barrier technology may play needs to be acknowledged. At a minimum, guidance on how to connect and collaborate online is needed.

To help address some of the above issues, the Skills Team at the University of Hull has produced a new guide on ‘remote learning’. The Remote learning SkillsGuide is designed to help support students adapting to the new reality of studying wherever they may be because of the global pandemic.

As this guide has been contextualised to Hull and our available technology, we have licenced this specific SkillsGuide with the CC-BY-NC-SA licence to allow other institutions to take what we have developed and adapt it to their context. The terms of the licence can be found here on the Creative Commons website. We hope this helps. We will continue to develop this guide and would welcome suggestions or contributions from others. If you have anything to add, get in touch with @LeeFallin.

Terminology is important, especially as we consider the new paradigms of remote learning. We struggled with the name for this SkillsGuide – but resisted reference to learning at home, off-campus or learning online. As many students are geographically ‘stuck’, we did not want a reference to ‘home’, especially as we are supporting students who are still on-campus. While the primary way we are communicating is online, we also did not want to suggest the whole paradigm of learning has shifted online also. Old techniques work fine for study too.

The guide can be accessed here: https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/remote

And Finally… Stay Connected!!

We want to conclude this #Take5 with a plea to take the time to stay connected. The Universities of Hull and LondonMet have both been incredibly supportive which has helped us all to find our feet, but really – this is when the hard bit of making lockdown work really starts. In the Hull Skills Team, we have a daily video call at 9:30 am to share a coffee and our plan for the day. It is a great opportunity to see how everyone is doing and if there are any pressures in their day. At LondonMet we have a distributed system of Academic Mentors embedded in Schools, and are working out how to use Microsoft Teams to stay connected. This doesn’t just mean work-related issues, but to discuss and plan around the different caring responsibilities members of the teams have now found themselves with. It is so important to be honest with your colleagues and managers in this difficult situation. Your wellbeing is important – and you should reach out if you are struggling.

We realise not everyone has these opportunities. If you are in a team of one, there are lots of ways to keep engaged with the wider learning development community. It is important to find time for this. You will not be alone in reading and hearing about all the many and wonderful things that you could be doing right now with all this free time on your hands… and thinking: ”Time?! What free time? Oh dear lord, I’m busier than ever…”

We know that you are all busy – more than busy – but this is important, too. Stay connected with this, your community.

Additional resources and information

“LD@3” – daily live-streamed webinar series replacing the ALDinHE and LILAC Conferences. These started Monday, 30th March at three pm – and run till mid-May. Each one is designed to last for an hour. The complete programme is available here: Events. There is a diverse range of topics, from supporting group work to helping students with reflective writing.

#creativeHE’s invitation to explore and celebrate creative self-expression – between April and May – as a contribution to World Creativity and Innovation Week and the Age of Creativity & Get Creative Festivals: https://www.facebook.com/groups/creativeHE/ The discussion will be curated in the next issue of Creative Academic Magazine.

#Take5 blogpostTake 5 (with cached resources) and https://lmutake5.wordpress.com/ (direct link). As always, we ask that if you have a blog post of your own lurking inside you, please get in contact and we can help you get it out!

#studychat Study Chat – Home – frequently updated education magazine.

#LTHEChat blog: https://lthechat.com/ – and a reminder that the weekly Wednesday night chats in Twitter – between 20.00-21.00 – are always a good place to feel connected. Even if you have never joined in before – why not try them now? Recent cached resources for learning and teaching are here: Quick link to Resources – there’s also an invitation to stay connected – not least using the hashtag #virtualcoffee | – and their Easter Egg: LTHEchat Easter-Egg – which flags up free films, concerts, museum tours, concerts, arts and crafts and books. Easter is coming – take a break!

Virtual Writing Group. Once LD@3 finishes, mid-May, we plan to run regular virtual writing groups for LDers and Academic Mentors to create a supportive space to help us all to write. The idea is to create these spaces in our institutional Collaborate online learning space, running for an hour and a half, once a fortnight – so that we can come together and produce words. (If you would like to join in, just do – but you are welcome to let us know. If you feel there would be benefit in a preparatory session on writing for publication, please let us know.)

Homeschooling – for those working from home with children: Unschooling Your Kids During Coronavirus Quarantine – and once we’ve practiced ‘un-schooling’ at home – who knows what that might do to our approach to Learning Development?

Coronavirus and your wellbeing | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems. For many people, working from home is new and may be challenging. If you’re anxious about coronavirus or self-isolating, this guide has helpful advice to help support your mental wellbeing.

Hybrid Pedagogy – if in need of a compassionate voice in these frightening times: An Open Letter On the Future of Hybrid Pedagogy

AND – finally – be kind to yourself, because things will never be the same again: Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure


Lee Fallin is an Academic and Library Specialist working at the Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull. He provides learning, writing, information/digital literacy, research and statistics support to students and staff across the University. This includes appointments, workshops, online help and integrated teaching.

Sandra Sinfield is a member of ALDinHE and works in the Centre for Professional and Educational Development at LondonMet. She provides support for academic and professional service staff across the university, including through the delivery of the formal PGCert/MA in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and the #studychat FaceBook group: Study Chat – Home

#Take5 #41 The best way to lay the foundations of success?

This #Take5 post is brought to you by Helen Hewertson … who works at a large post 92 UK University. She is the main person responsible for the day-to-day running of the foundation programme in Humanities and Social Science and is module leader for and teaches on all the core modules. There is a cohort of between 40-100 students per core module which cover topics like study skills, critical thinking, research methods and digital literacy. 

20190926_100930 (1)Helen’s student’s drawing

Start here

“The foundation entry degree was probably the best thing I did. After being out of education for so long (15 years) this entry point gave me an opportunity to gain invaluable experience in creating university level pieces of work, practise my presentation skills and make lifelong friends.” Student 1

Foundation entry is an additional year to prepare students before they start the first year of their full degree. Foundation entry has a wide variety of students from different backgrounds. My university has a high proportion of widening participation students. A lot of the students are unfamiliar with the demands of university and how it is different to what they’ve done before. So the foundation year is pivotal in getting them used to the way university works and what is expected of them. We develop students with a scaffolded approach with more support in semester one and more independent learning and group work in semester two. In my practice, I’m heavily influenced by an academic literacies approach and by work from Paulo Freire, Pierre Bourdieu, Lisa Delpit, and Kimberle Crenshaw among others. 

This Blog looks at strategies for inclusion and transition for widening participation students starting university through a foundation entry programme.  

What makes a really good student anyway?

The aim for these students is to give them the tools and confidence to succeed at university. We might discuss what makes a really successful, learner/student, and students draw what they think. They start with a typical student, and then a really successful student.

Helen’s student’s drawing

We also utilize the teaching styles that they are likely to come into contact with. I generally use lectures for giving students relevant information and theory that will then be discussed in the seminars and put to practical use.  

The second lecture for the study skills module is on academic reading, where we discuss different conceptions of reading. We then look at relevant journal articles and have discussions about academic reading and referencing in subsequent seminars.  It is important that students feel engaged and included. I use my research informed teaching background to find relevant journal articles I can use with the students that gets them used to how academic writing works. An example of this is the Building a Scholar in Writing model by Bailey et al. (2015). The students find the metaphor used in this model very useful when checking what they need to cover for an essay.

Research-informed Teaching

The figure below on curriculum design and the research-teaching nexus, by Healey et al. (2007) has been pivotal in developing my modules. The study skills module, is focused around the research-tutored, research-oriented and research-led sections. Whilst other modules can utilise all four aspects of the model. This helps the students feel engaged and practically apply any knowledge they are taught.

RIT model Healey et al

Figure 1 Curriculum design and the research-teaching nexus (Healey et al 2007)

Tensions and Tools

It is important when teaching to consider inclusion and the appropriate use of learning technologies for engagement as we can no longer just stand at the front talking at students (which of course LDers don’t do!) when you have an increasingly diverse cohort. More active learning has been shown to be beneficial for all students (Theobald et al., 2020). 

One of the tensions is in my delivery in lectures. I have to be very careful to make sure that I don’t move around too much and talk too fast, especially if there is a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreter for deaf students as it takes longer to sign something than to speak it. 

Videos are useful learning tools as it helps break up the lecture and supports student engagement. (Sherer & Shea 2011). I make sure that if I am using videos they are subtitled, however, there is a lack of relevant resources with subtitles. TED talks are useful and come with subtitles in many languages. This is useful for international students, as helps to remove the language barrier. 

All these videos and slides are on the VLE a few days before the lecture. This and other adjustments enables inclusive pedagogy, extending what is generally available to everybody regardless of background or need (Florian and Black-Hawkins 2010).

Reflection- what am I doing here? 

Getting students to reflect on their learning is an important step in their learning journey. “Critical reflection requires us to ponder our practices, processes, and identities. It also requires us to look beyond our own circumstances to the external factors, policies, and people that might influence the choices we make and the actions we take.” (Sutherland 2013 p.111) This is important, as with research and group work there can be many external factors that influence us, not to mention our personal lives. It is about acknowledging the successes, but also the challenges we face and developing strategies that work that can help us in the future.  

For one module they are expected to submit a reflective diary about the learning journey and experiences of group work and research. We discuss models of reflection in class in semester 2 (see also https://lmutake5.wordpress.com/2020/01/30/take5-39-the-best-way-to-surf-the-reflective-wave/) and do an activity around identifying reflection in sample pieces of writing. The insights the students develop about their own learning practices and skills shows how useful this process of reflection is because many would have not come to this realisation if not for the reflective assignment. 

In my school we are required to give two assessments per module. I try to set assessment for learning not just of learning.  Sadler (1998) talks about the importance of formative assessment. I use this to set an essay plan in HUC110 which catches most issues before the final assessment. After getting formative feedback on the essay plan,  we look at examples of past essays and then mark them using the marking criteria. 

With the essay I require a self-evaluation based on Rust (2002). This new module structure I developed allows them better insight into how academic work is structured and marked, as well as promoting self-reflection on their work. This is useful to promote metalearning and develop employability skills. Module evaluations show these practices work for most students.   

What the students said

“I told so many people that I’m glad I did a foundation year before starting my degree. It just easier way to make that bridge between A levels and degree!” S4

Students tend to be very unconfident when they start university especially in foundation year. So one of the main successes of foundation entry is being able to build student confidence, so they are familiar with ways of being and belonging at university. They develop a support network, and know where to get help when needed. It gives students insight into academic skills development and how to navigate the university environment for students who come from widening participation backgrounds. We have a good retention and completion rate, and our students are more likely to get a degree than the national average.

I recently did a survey of previous foundation students, to see if doing the foundation entry year has helped them in their degree. Some student feedback is detailed below:

“I currently present the psychology departments student experience talks, along with other foundation entry students. We sing its praises throughout our talks. In my opinion this shouldn’t be an option if you don’t get the grades you require or you haven’t been in education for a while but should be integrated into the standard degree. The skills we learnt within the foundation year have set us up perfectly for university life and we all feel like we had an advantage compared to the other first year entry students.”  Student 1

“The Foundation course was the first step which prepared me for the degree course. It not only provided me the academic support, but moral and psychological support as well. When I started the course, I was not confident enough, but the foundation course was the founding step which helped me to grow.  After finishing the foundation year, I have completed the Year 1 and 2 successfully, and now I am in the final year.  Thanks to all the academic staff of foundation year for helping me out to move forward.“ Student 2

“Foundation year really prepared me for my first year. It gave me more confidence to approach staff members for any issues I had. The greatest help was in preparing me for my essays. I do believe I would have had much lower grades if I would not have taken the foundation course.” Student 3 

“We did have some really interesting lectures which really fired my enthusiasm for learning.  In addition to the subject based ones, I also thought study skills and, was the other one called developing academic knowledge were very useful. They helped refine the skills needed to produce work of the required standards. It was really great to have the opportunity to have a taster year of academic life before it was all full on! I can honestly say that the foundation is a great way to increase skills and confidence.” Student 5

Your Turn

My advice would be that if you are considering how to make your lessons more inclusive, then think about the diverse cohort and what strategies you can put in place to make sessions more active and participatory. Are there any barriers to inclusion in the setting? Have you thought about inclusion for not just disabled students, but those from diverse backgrounds who might have had no experience of higher education before, and no idea of what to expect? My big tip would be to have a look at the theorists I mentioned and think through how reflection and research-informed teaching can make a difference to designing your modules or courses. Good luck!


Helen Hewertson is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has taught at various levels and to learners with various abilities and ages. She is currently teaching on the Foundation programme in the School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies, and is module leader for several modules. Helen is also the Chair of the Pedagogic Research Forum and is passionate about educational research and inclusive teaching.


Bailey, A., Zanchetta, M., Velasco, D., Pon, G. and Hassan, A. (2015) ‘Building a scholar in writing (BSW): A model for developing students’ critical writing skills.’ Nurse Education in Practice, 15(6) p. 524–529.

Campo, Negro and Núñez (2013) Use and Abuse of Audiovisual Media in the College Classroom. Slides Show and Web Pages Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 93 p.190-194 

Freire, P. (1992) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin Edition

Florian, L. and Black-Hawkins, K. (2011), Exploring inclusive pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37, p.813–828. doi:10.1080/01411926.2010.501096

Jenkins, A. Healey, M. and Zetter, R. (2007) Linking teaching and research in departments and disciplines York: The Higher Education Academy   Available from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/teachingandresearch/LinkingTeachingAndResearch_April07.pdf Accessed on 03/10/08

Rust, C. (2002) Purposes and principles of assessment. LEARNING AND TEACHING BRIEFING PAPERS SERIES Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development. Accessed on 23/3/2017 available at https://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/resources/briefing_papers/p_p_assessment.pdf 

Sadler, D. R. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems, Instructional Science, 18, p.119–144. 

Sherer, P., & Shea, T. (2011). Using online video to support student learning and engagement. College Teaching, 59, p.56-59

Sutherland, K.A. (2013), “The importance of critical reflection in and on academic development”, International Journal for Academic Development, Vol. 18, No. 2, p. 111–113. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2013.802074 

Theobald, E. J., Hill, M. J., Tran, E., Agrawal, S., Arroyo, E. N., Behling, S., Chambwe, N., Cintrón, D. L., Cooper, J. D., Dunster, G., Grummer, J. A., Hennessey, K., Hsiao, J., Iranon, N., Jones, L., Jordt, H., Keller, M., Lacey, M. E., Littlefield, C. E., Lowe, A., Newman, S., Okolo, V., Olroyd, S., Peecook, B. R., Pickett, S. B., Slager, D. L., Caviedes-Solis, I. W., Stanchak, K. E., Sundaravardan, V., Valdebenito, C., Williams, C. R., Zinsli, K. and Freeman, S. (2020) ‘Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March, p. 201916903.


#Take5 #40: ALDinHE: The Best Way of Ensuring Sustainability for the Future

The first ALDinHE symposium took place at London Metropolitan University in 2003 – and an Association was born. That Association has been growing, developing, flourishing. This #Take5 blogpost has been written by Steve Briggs, Co-Chair of ALDinHE, to bring Learning Developers up to date with all the latest developments. Have a read. Leave a Comment. Get involved.




Growing and Flourishing

The last five years have been an exciting time for ALDinHE (Association for Learning Development in Higher Education). There have been some brilliant developments and expansions to our membership offer. For example, we have introduced a recognition scheme, regional events, research bids and a new website. We have had fantastic feedback from the learning development community in relation to these new developments and institutional membership of ALDinHE has reached at an all-time high (currently 95 ALDinHE members).

Whilst we welcomed this growth, it became apparent that the steering group was not best set up to manage our growing service offer. Therefore, over the last nine months the ALDinHE Steering Group has looked at how we could restructure steering group duties to ensure better distribution of responsibilities and, through doing so, safeguard the long-term sustainability of the association.

On the 13th February 2020, ALDinHE held an online extra-ordinary general meeting where members voted unanimously to approve the Steering Group’s restructure proposal.

What has changed? 

Historically, the ALDinHE steering group comprised four named positions (two Co-Chairs / Secretary / Treasurer) which formed the ALDinHE Executive. There were also twelve Steering Group Members (who chaired working groups / led projects). Steering group recruitment was through self-nomination and operated on a 12-month cycle.

Looking forward, ALDinHE will organise itself around three themes, which map against the association’s strategic priorities. A member of the ALDinHE executive will lead or co-lead each strategic theme. Each theme encompasses operational areas, which reflect operational services provided by the association:

Theme 1: Research Theme 2: Practice Theme 3: Events and external relations
Operational areas: 

  • Journal
  • Research funding
  • Scholarly activity
Operational areas:

  • Training
  • Recognition
  • Learn Higher
  • Peer mentoring
Operational areas: 

  • Conference
  • Regional events
  • Communications
  • Partnerships and collaborations

A member of the steering group will lead each operational area. Typically, a minimum two-year term of service will apply to each role.

There will also be two members of the SG without portfolio (1-year roles to allow new members to become involved in the steering group every year).

Welcome to the new ALDinHE steering group

Existing ALDinHE steering group members have been matched into new steering group positions as follows:

Position  Role holder
ALDinHE Co-Chair (research) Carina Buckley
Journal lead editor Alicja Syska
Research funding lead Maria Kukhareva
Research development lead Christie Pritchard
ALDinHE Co-Chair (practice) Steve Briggs
Professional development lead Helen Webster
Recognition lead Pam Thomas
Learn Higher lead Amanda Pocklington
Peer mentoring lead Sandra Sinfield
ALDinHE Secretary Kate Coulson
ALDinHE Treasurer Carina Buckley
Conference lead Melanie Crisfield
Regional events lead Maddy Mossman / Alistair Morey
Communications lead Jacqui Bartram
Partnerships and collaborations lead Ella Turner
Steering Group Member To be appointed 
Steering Group Member To be appointed

Working groups : Now is your chance to get involved

ALDinHE working groups will now be refreshed and aligned to new operational roles. This provides a fantastic opportunity for more members of the learning development community to get involved. The new working group list:

  • Journal Editorial Committee
  • Research Development Working Group
  • Research Funding Panel
  • Communications Committee
  • Collaborations Team
  • Conference Committee
  • Regional Events Coordinators
  • Training and CPD Working Group
  • Peer mentoring Coordinators
  • Learn Higher Editorial Committee

Opportunities to get involved will be advertised via the LDHEN Jiscmail list over the coming months. Likewise, most of the ALDinHE operational leads will be at the ALDinHE 2020 conference in Northampton and are happy to chat about how you can get involved.

Interested in joining the steering group? 

Calls for self-nominations for steering group vacancies will be posted via the LDHEN Jiscmail list.


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


#Take5 #39 The best way to surf the reflective wave?

This month’s #Take5 blog is brought to you from Ian Johnson, Learning Development Tutor, University of Portsmouth. Ian discusses an interesting, dynamic reflective process that makes reflection move beyond performance to something useful and meaningful.

Reflective Practice – ‘Surfing the Wave’

Teaching students how to reflect in writing can be a thorny issue for disciplinary staff and learning developers alike, and one that often raises more questions than answers.

Why is reflection so often uncomfortable for students? In theory, freedom from the dreaded academic mantra ‘never write in first person’ could be so liberating, but more often, it feels like a bad case of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, with the shackles of the ‘academic essay’ genre eventually becoming a comfort blanket, impossible to shake off.

The problems experienced by students in reflection seem to take one of two polar forms. Firstly, students might remain chained to the traditional essay genre, and produce theory-heavy work with only tokenistic reflection. At the opposite pole, students may throw off the restraints, produce fantastic first-person narrative, but miss the opportunity to connect their experiences to the wider context or the theory that sits behind them.

In this blog, I will explore a method that has proved useful in helping students to calibrate theory and practice in their reflections, namely the visual metaphor of a ‘wave’, developed out of Karl Maton’s (2013) concept of ‘semantic waves’ (more below).

Bridging disciplinary boundaries?

“Reflection” doubtless holds very different meanings across disciplines. When teaching reflection, either as a disciplinary practice (my preference) or a more generic ‘academic skill’, one can question whether it works better with a model for reflection, or without. Learning Developers seek to emancipate students as a core value, so to wed them to one reflective model would run against that principle.

That said, the model I will outline – ‘Waves of Reflection’ (Kirk, 2017) – is one that, from personal classroom experience, meets the ‘what works most often’ criterion. In the spirit of all I’ve said, however, I would recommend presenting it to students as one of a number of choices for how they can tackle reflection, from which to make their own decision.

The model is based on ideas that have interested practitioners in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for several years. It uses tenets from Maton’s ‘Legitimation Code Theory’ (2013), developed at University of Sydney. Its applicability to reflective activities in EAP is well-versed by Steve Kirk of Durham University (see here, for example, or Kirk’s slides from the 2017 BALEAP conference). The question of interest here, however, is how the Learning Developer can usefully deploy it as part of their toolbox.

Waving up, waving down

Maton used the idea of ‘semantic gravity’, meaning “the degree of context embeddedness” (Kirk, 2017) of a piece of knowledge. Knowledge which is ‘Semantic Gravity plus’ (SG+) is rooted in everyday life experience. Conversely, ‘Semantic Gravity minus’ (SG-) knowledge is deeply theoretical. Reflection often calls for students to explain something that happened in personal experience (SG+), move outwards to consider that in light of context and other events, and then discuss theory that sits behind or could explain it (SG-). Maton’s principles therefore led on to the idea of ‘semantic waves’ – a literal wave that can be drawn across a piece of writing, showing how we can ‘wave up’ from practice to theory, and ‘wave down again’ from the theory to the real world, to produce cycles of reflection.

Let’s take a look at what this looks like. In classes, I visualise these ideas for students like this:

 Image 1: Maton’s conceptions of the knowledge-context relationship

And I have then developed the following model to apply the theory to reflective writing:

Image 2: The knowledge wave as applied to reflective writing

Often when students see this second slide, it produces the type of ‘eureka’ or ‘aaaahhh’ moment that teachers dream of being able to conjure up daily, but getting to that point needs careful preparation.

Making it work in class

Use of ‘waves of reflection’ tends to work best if it is scaffolded beforehand with an activity to get students to consider, first in writing and then through conversation with others, a ‘critical incident’ within their practice-based experience. I leave the meaning of critical incident as open as possible, to let students decide what they’d like to focus on, but make clear that it should be something that they don’t mind sharing within the safe space of that class (I suggest an informal chat about group confidentiality to begin with). The written element of the task deliberately encourages initially quite shallow reflection, through questions like:

  • ‘What happened?’, ‘
  • ‘What action did you take at the time and/or afterwards?’, ‘
  • ‘What were the results of your actions?’
  • ‘What did you learn about yourself or your practice’?

As the students begin to discuss their answers, and crucially, still without showing them the ‘waves’ model yet, I begin to encourage dialogue that moves up the wave, to generalisations behind the experience, and possible theories that explain it. This can get quite messy and unpredictable and needs thinking on your feet, but try to be OK with it – the students always buy into the process and come up with interesting scenarios. When that’s done, you show the wave model above, and the learners can quickly understand how it works, because they have just ‘done’ the process verbally. If you have the time (usual ‘50 minute workshop’ constraints duly noted), you can then get the students to develop what’s been spoken about, into a paragraph or two, using the wave as the basis.

Pre-prepared examples can also work really well in a class like this, emphasising how waves can move upwards to theory, and downwards to practice:

Image 3: Waving up  

Image 4: Waving down

This year I have also added this excellent little video, produced by Lucy McNaught of Auckland University of Technology, and endorsed by the Legitimation Code Theory Centre, to the presentation.

Lecturers say …

An academic who collaborated with me to embed this session within their taught unit said: “I use the wave model to ensure students can complete the reflective cycle within their academic work. It encourages students to present concepts in abstract/theoretical terms and then provide a specific example. I even built a little graphic of the semantic wave with example sentence starters for each part. Although I wondered if this might have been overly directive, it was gratefully received by the students and helped to convey general academic principles which I know will serve them at every level of study.”

Another mused on the merits of the wave concept compared to the more traditional cyclical reflective models: “for me the key difference using semantic waves offers an opportunity to build a deeper and more sustained approach to relate to what directly impacts upon practice. It works best for me in my Initial Teacher Training cohort who are working in practice alongside study. This model enables them to make meaning, to truly understand the much used term ‘theory into practice’ and to develop this in context – the idea that teaching is loaded with socially and institutionally symbolic terminology (jargon) appeals to this process – in this model they are asked to unpack these terms and to internalise this and challenge ways of knowing and ways of doing.”

Inherent in both quotes is the realisation among the academics who collaborated, that their discipline may be laden with jargon and terminology that can befuddle students. Such matters might be passed off (in Lea and Street’s classic terminology) as more transparent under a ‘socialisation’ model, or as ‘the support tutor’s business’ under a ‘study skills’ model. What we see here is, in contrast, augurs favourably, in that the subject lecturers begin to adopt ‘academic literacies’ thinking through the approach taken.

Good for the EAP goose, good for the LD gander?

ALDinHE and BALEAP have collaborated to produce a special issue of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (Special Edition, Academic Literacies: https://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/issue/view/29). There, questions are asked about what the two ‘same but different’ fields can offer each other. Within the issue’s community-sourced literature review of academic literacies (Hilsdon, Malone & Syska, 2019), I have argued, taking inspiration from a paper by Coffin and Donohue (2012), that while Maton’s ‘Legitimation Code Theory’ ideas have caught on in EAP, LD ought to be taking just as much interest in them. This is because they are grounded in principles of ‘knowers’ (i.e. person-centred) as well as ‘knowledge’ (more text centred). The outline I have given here is just one example of how LD practitioners can weave LCT into their work. It would be great to hear how this has happened elsewhere, whether for the teaching of reflection, or anything else.


Ian is a Learning Development Tutor of four years’ experience, within the School of Education and Sociology at University of Portsmouth, as well as an EdD research student working towards a thesis on ‘the value of Learning Development work in undergraduate Higher Education’. In 2015 he ‘crossed the frontier’ from EAP into LD work and counts semantic waves as one of the most transferable concepts between the two fields. Ian says:

Please feel free to use any of the slides to teach reflection to students, if you feel them to be an option that could work in your context (I can provide originals if you email me: ian.johnson@port.ac.uk) . However, please ensure that Maton (for LCT principles), Kirk (for application of LCT to reflective writing), McNaught (for the video) and myself for anything else, are credited (see references below). The copyright for the slides is owned by University of Portsmouth. 


Coffin, C. & Donohue, J. (2012). Academic Literacies and Systemic Functional Linguistics: how do they relate? Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 11(1), 64-75. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2011.11.004

Hilsdon, J., Malone, C. & Syska, A. (2019, in press). Academic Literacies twenty years on: a community-sourced literature review. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 15 (November 2019). Retrieved from: https://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/article/view/567/pdf

Kirk, S. (2017). ‘Waves of Reflection: seeing knowledges in academic writing’. Proceedings of the 2015 BALEAP conference. Reading: Garnet Publishing. Online draft version available at: http://legitimationcodetheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2017Kirk.pdf

Maton, K. (2013). Making semantic waves: A key to cumulative knowledge-building. Linguistics and Education, 24(1), 8-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.linged.2012.005

McNaught, L. / Academic Writing AUT. (2018). Reflective writing . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-NPNeNtr_8

#Take5 #38 The best way of engaging with academics?

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Kate Coulson who is Head of Learning Development at the University of Northampton and has spent most of her career cajoling and persuading colleagues to work with her and more recently to work with the teams she leads…

Our Kate

Selling it: Why engage colleagues?

I always knew I didn’t want to work in a commercial field especially in retail, but on reflection I have evolved into an experienced salesperson: selling connection and collegiality. (If only I worked on commission!) As a Librarian and latterly a Learning Developer I have probably spent the best part of 20 years trying to persuade colleagues to work with me. For librarians, learning technologists, educational- and learning developers, engaging with colleagues is essential to the success of your role. 

These days, some colleagues want to concentrate on the tech or the teaching and that is understandable – but let’s not forget the broader dimension of our roles and the value to be found in liaison or collaboration per se. Without this interaction and communication, we don’t know what’s going on in our organisation and we certainly won’t have an influential role. 

I’ve learnt by trial and error how to do this in commercial, legal, financial, public and education fields and whilst some ideas haven’t always been successful, I’d like to share my approach in the hope that it might help other learning developers. 

I’ll also hold my hands up and state that I am not an expert and I’d love to hear other people’s words of wisdom on this topic as I’m sure I could improve my approach (and I can share it with the team in which I work!).

Our Team

My Way: The ”Coulson” Approach: ‘attacking from all angles, repeatedly but without trying to annoy and in fact trying to charm the intended target’

I discussed this concept on the LDHEN Jiscmail List (www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ldhen) in July 2019 and whilst it doesn’t trip off the tongue, I think it is a good description of the current approach employed by many librarians, LD-ers, LTs and ED-ers within the UK and beyond. I guess the best way to describe it is ‘attacking from all angles, repeatedly but without trying to annoy and in fact trying to charm the intended target’. The “Coulson” approach isn’t going to catch on, is it?! There are however, several aspects to this approach and I’ll summarise them in turn.

University level committees and projects; influencing/writing policy; faculty level meetings

You may not have been officially invited to be on a committee or steering group but use stealth to get your expertise included! Find out who attends these meetings and use your current contacts to approach these individuals to get your views across. 

Alternatively, you might try the direct approach – I’ve just boldly invited myself onto a new committee and thought ‘ the chances aren’t high that they’ll include me – but I’ve got nothing to lose’. And guess what?! Include me they did. 

Now, I’m not an advocate of endless meetings and committees but sometimes the one or two small comments you make or the people you meet will eventually pay dividends and you’ll be approached to contribute more – and with impact. 

New starters, follow up by LD Tutor + liaison model

I personally contact every new member of teaching staff to tell them about the wonderful work undertaken by the Learning Development team… I then ensure that the LD Tutors contact them a few weeks later with a follow up ‘How are you getting on?’ email. 

Sometimes this works and I get emails straight back and we then arrange to meet with the individuals. Sometimes we don’t hear anything until after the follow up email and sometimes not at all. However, those emails are useful because when I meet these new colleagues I always say ‘oh yes, I contacted you a few weeks ago about LD – how are you getting on?’ and it opens a dialogue. 

This coupled with a liaison model has made influencing and working with others much more fruitful. We “borrowed” the librarian liaison model whereby a tutor is allocated to a subject area. This works well as it allows a good relationship to develop with subject-based staff and a good rapport with students.  Librarians have been doing this very well for decades and instead of re-inventing the wheel I unashamedly nicked their approach; talk to your fellow Librarians as they’d love to share their expertise!

Blind Dates – L&T Conferences, Development Days 

As a team we try and get invited to all the “parties”: internal L&T conferences; faculty development days; L&T Discussion Groups; reviewing research bids for L&T projects and once we are ‘in’ we get invited back each time! 

We always attend L&T events to get our work shared but also to be seen. And so we can chat with other colleagues who may not have read our emails; attended meetings or have missed the LD attack! 

We share our research; we create academic posters and we happily get involved in reviewing research bids because we are on the radar. 

I’ve only just finished reviewing submissions to the University of Northampton’s student researcher bursaries; I’ve done this for years and it keeps me in touch with what is happening and the research peeps know I that I have an interest.


Many members of the LD team at Northampton are involved in the academic CPD scheme. We lead, create and teach sessions to our peers around topics such as “designing out plagiarism” to “embedding academic skills within subject areas”. 

We also mentor HEA Fellowship and Senior Fellowship candidates and are also part of the accredited panel who award Associate Fellow, Fellow and Senior Fellow to internal candidates. 

All this means that we are seen to “know stuff”; we aren’t just ‘support staff’ (that term makes me very cross) and we are appreciated for our expertise in our own right. 

But this activity also allows us to work with and alongside colleagues in a different guise and usually results in working on research projects together, team teaching and sometimes emails asking me to check their work/writing/thesis (which is a sign of trust, if ever there was one!).Your turn

This is just the tip of the liaison iceberg – there is so much good work happening out there around liaison and getting the LD/ED/LT/Librarian flag noticed. As I said, I would never profess to be an expert and I haven’t listed every tiny thing we do because well, you have better things to do with your day but please share your ideas – I’d love to hear them!


Kate is the Head of Learning Development at the University of Northampton and is also the Secretary of ALDinHE. She has worked in HE for over 10 years in a variety of roles as a librarian and learning developer and has led teams in both areas. In her previous life she worked in the City of London with lawyers, bankers and management consultants but realised she needed to be somewhere where she could use her creativity every day. Kate is a Senior Fellow of the HEA, a professionally qualified librarian, a Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development and a passionate advocate of professionals within the so-called “third space” of HE.

#Take5 # 37: The Best Way to Embed Learning Development?

Creating powerful learning spaces and real learning across a suite of first year Computing modules

This #Take5 blogpost is brought to you by Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield – reflecting on a project that embedded creative learning development practice in an ‘Higher Education Orientation’ module offered to students across a suite of first year Computing, Design and Animation courses.

‘MySpace’ – not

In university, students, especially those from non-advantaged backgrounds, can become rendered silent and passive or alienated and disaffected by the very spaces in which we teach and expect them to learn. Students can experience ‘our’ spaces, the lecture theatre and computing lab, the library and classroom, as disempowering, as not belonging to them. This is exacerbated when our curriculum spaces make little room especially for our non-traditional students. This is especially problematic when even those ‘study skills’ spaces that are supposed to facilitate the transition into the academy of widening participation students is not made enabling or welcoming. This is an issue that we wanted to resolve – especially in one particular partnership when we worked together with Computing colleagues to re-imagine a Higher Education Orientation module that ran for three different groups of computing students – programmers, designers and animators. We wanted to re-cast and reinvigorate the HEO to create more welcoming learning spaces for students overall.

It’s learning development Jim…

In particular we wanted to debunk the idea that an HEO was a module designed to ‘fix’ ‘deficit’ students. Instead the module leader – Alan Hudson – worked with us to reimagine the whole curriculum from scratch. Together we formed a Project- or Problem Based Learning module where the students were provoked, intrigued and challenged to learn – and in academic spaces that they could occupy differently: more creatively and more powerfully[1].

Rather than route marching students through a ‘skills’ programme designed to bring them ‘up to speed’, we launched the students on their university quest – setting creative projects to pique their curiosity and challenge them to learn something that they wanted to learn – in spaces that they could make their own – and only reaching out for successful study and learning strategies if and when they became appropriate and useful.

What’s your object?

The project that drove the student learning was linked to ‘A history of the world in a 100 objects’. Each student had to research an object and build an interpretative representation of that object in their virtual building spaces. They would then go on to make a presentation on their object and its importance to the rest of the class – and the final assessment point was a report on the design and evaluation of their particular representation.

To facilitate active student learning and engagement, we worked with the students in a range of different spaces. We took the students to the British Museum to research their topics; we engaged in interactive workshops in real life (IRL) – offering notemaking, reading and writing strategies through dynamic play rather than didactic instruction; and in SecondLife (SL), the 3D virtual world that we were using, learning happened not in realist, mimetic representations of classrooms or lecture theatres. Rather we created a student ‘building zone’ in SL so that students could actively create and build their representations – and inhabit their own learning spaces and their own learning in more powerful ways; finally, we built a seashore complete with beach and susurrating sea, as the reflective learning space.

Pic: Our Galleon on the SL beach – with the deckchairs

Students reflected on their learning IRL via brief writing patches, classroom conversations – and via formal presentations. Reading was facilitated by collaborative working on textscrolls and the writing was scaffolded by free writing activities. Students as their avatar selves also reflected in SL ‘sitting’ in deckchairs around campfires, solving gnomic puzzle cubes and investigating the mysterious galleon that we shipwrecked when we wanted to deliver them additional thought-provoking ‘supplies’.

Our space

And it was amazing to see how the students occupied and made, especially the virtual, learning spaces their own. On entering SL, even if they had never used that space before, they entered with more confidence and panache than they tended to enter the real life classrooms. Rather than be intimidated or to suffer in embarrassed silence, we observed students asking for help and saw the more experienced ‘gamers’ help the ‘newbies’ build their avatars and construct their objects.

The avatars themselves were also revelatory. The common misconception is that the anonymity of social media spaces encourages deception, or the hyping of an idealised self. However, we saw students inhabit this space differently: not building ‘perfect’ representations of themselves but making ‘flawed self’ avatars – or something more playful: a Klingon, a female sea captain, a bumblebee.

Pics: Sandra Avatar (okay – I went for an idealised self!) – and the student Klingon avatar

We observed (judged against previous ‘skills’ modules) that the creative project stimulated real student engagement and that the positive self-representations and activities in SL spilled over into RL such that their playful learning, their presentations and eventually their academic writing were all undertaken with more confidence and style.

In conclusion

In SL and IRL, we worked to represent study and learning as active, fluid, engaging and, together with the students, created participative knowledge-landscapes in the real and virtual worlds in which we operated.

We saw that the alternative spaces were indeed inhabited alternatively, playfully and powerfully by these first year students. They collaborated, they explored, they built. They claimed, occupied and transformed their own learning places; making their own marks on the educational ‘landscape’.

Pic: our student on the poopdeck of the representation she made of HMS Beagle (note – it’s floating in space)

This collaboration created praxis a virtual world away from students being plugged in to a remedial package to ‘fix’ their supposed ‘deficits’ or a curriculum approach where assessments test whether set learning outcomes have been met and nothing more ineffable is offered or created. Here the social construction of meaning and of knowledge was played out through real and virtual student bodies, in enabling spaces and via participative, collective endeavour.

We feel that this mode of collaboratively embedding emancipatory Learning Development within, through and across a whole module and in very creative ways offers a very different model of ‘embedding’ LD within the curriculum. This way of working with such creative and generous discipline colleagues helped us also to reaffirm the power of creativity as emancipatory practice and led to our development of a much more creative and ludic approach to LD work – with staff and students.


Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield work in the Centre for Professional and Educational Development within London Metropolitan University and have co-authored textbooks focussed on successful study and learning practices: Teaching, Learning and Study Skills: a guide for tutors and Essential Study Skills: the complete guide to success at university – for Sage publications (who were the people who insisted on having ‘study skills’ in the titles). They collaborated on this project with Alan Hudson who has since moved on to produce SL theatre productions and wrote the paper associated with this project with Debbie Holley who used to work at LondonMet, but who is now a Professor specialising in Technology Enhanced Learning at Bournemouth University. All of them are involved with ALDinHE.

[1] Viz. Sinfield et al ‘The shipwrecked shore and other metaphors…’, Investigations in university teaching and learning Vol 8.


#Take5 #36 The Best Way to Tell Our Stories?

Stortelling in Learning Development

This #Take5 blog post is brought to you by Anne-Kathrin Reck co-organiser of the recent ALDinHE one-day regional symposium at the University of Portsmouth: ‘Storytelling in Learning Development’ (September 12th 2019). This turned out to be a day filled with fun, informative and participatory sessions, covering presentations, workshops, show & tells and a world café session. The speakers were recruited from the university with subject areas ranging from law to gaming, maths and performing studies. The presenters were learning developers, lecturers, librarians, and a faculty dean!

What’s the story morning glory?
Storytelling is undoubtedly powerful and not only for children. It preserves memories, personal histories, culturally important activities. Stories stay with us, they move us. If you need more convincing, read here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/06/4-reasons-why-storytelling-is-powerful/.

With this in mind we planned our symposium in search of stories linked to academia, from around the university, looking at it through a LD lens. These are the highlights of that day.

It’s the way I tell them
I can only report on the strand I chaired, but participating in telling a story through body language (‘Acting Out Stories’) was received very well with a lot of laughter – and well acted!

Pic 1 Acting out stories (author’s own)

Equally, being exposed to precious (no food or drinks here!) books and artefacts from the library’s special collection was a real treat. We got our hands on objects that do not see the light very often, some books from the 17th century even. I for one did not know that librarians are inspired to research deeper into the background of their artefacts, linking them to real life stories and write about them.

Pic 2 Objects from the special collection at UoP (library)

After lunch we were all introduced to some spooky history of Portsmyth [sic] (‘Supernatural Storytelling & the Re-reading of Local Space’) associating it to the local landscape.

In the strands that I had to miss, there was some real storytelling going on in legal settings and in maths support.

LD contributions
To round up the day, my colleagues Laura and Rhiannon both offered an excellent show & tell session about the coal face of LD in situ. Rhiannon explained and illustrated the background, logistics and impact of her international reading group. Laura ran a very well received session titled ‘Not Seeing the Wood for Trees: Encouraging Active Reading’ which confirmed what we all know – academic confidence can rest on reading.

All participants were engaged in the final world café session which I facilitated. Here they summarised what they had learned, focusing on how their understanding of the questions had grown during the day – evidenced in these pictures:

Pic 3 The What? Pic 4 The Why? & Pic 5 The How? (all author’s own)

Once upon a time
One of the highlights of the day was the sheer enthusiasm that delegates had for the potential of storytelling to substantially impact on their teaching and academic skills development work and therefore on their students’ learning. In sum, there was something on offer for a wide variety of tastes during our small symposium on storytelling – I can tell you that!

The feedback we received on the symposium was simply brilliant and inspires us to look further. We concluded that this topic certainly ‘has legs’. We are now in the process of setting up a research cluster for storytelling, initially for two of our faculties. Our event showed how multidisciplinary the appeal of the topic is. The next step, after offering this symposium as staff development, is a student focused event on stories and research. It’s already in the pipeline for November. We need to brighten up the dark months of the year with stories.

My personal take-away from the symposium is that I undoubtedly gained/refreshed skills I never thought I’d need. Collaborating with LD colleagues from another faculty went really smoothly and all three of us made contributions on different aspects of logistics and organisation (three heads are better than one) as well as contributing on the day. Rejigging the programme numerous times, changing the actual date for it and recruiting colleagues from several university faculties were just some points we learned during organising an ALDinHE symposium.

Bio: Anne-Kathrin Reck, University of Portsmouth,
is a former university lecturer of German and Russian who ‘discovered’ learning development in mid-career. Over the years she gained extensive experience of working with international students as well as in the area of dyslexia support. She now works in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at Portsmouth in the role of International Academic Skills Tutor. She is a fellow of the HEA.

#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.