#Take5 #60 How learning developers can support teaching about climate change

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Dr Iain Cross and Dr Alina Congreve, who look at the increasing importance for learning developers of the climate emergency and the practical implications it has for their work. In an exciting development, this blogpost has been paired with ALDinHE’s LD@3 programme – and there will be an LD@3 on the 8th June to continue the conversations started here (joining details coming soon to ALDinHE events!).

School Strike 4 Climate, Demonstrations, Zagreb
Young people are not content to imaging a greener future, they want to create it

Students and sustainability: a symbiosis that benefits their education and society

In this blog, we want to share our ideas and thoughts about teaching climate change with the learning development community, and to stimulate debate around the implications of new guidance from the QAA for learning developers. The blog explores some of the ways in which learning developers contribute to education for sustainable development and how it relates to their wider work. We hope it stimulates discussion, and we are keen to hear your thoughts and ideas ahead of our workshop at the SEDA Conference in December. We have posed a number of questions that we are looking forward to discussing with you at our LD@3 event on 8th June (please check ALDinHE Events soon for joining information and further details).

We have been working together on research projects that explore how to embed climate change into the higher education curriculum. We have recently published a paper on how geography degrees integrate climate change, and alongside that project we have been looking at climate change teaching in a broad range of subjects where it is not usually taught (such as fashion, law, chemistry and literature).

Our research has explored the importance of authentic learning and teaching practices, as the skills and abilities that students need to address the climate challenge are best developed through authentic learning experiences. By ‘authentic’, we mean that they reflect ‘real-world’ tasks and activities that students would be undertaking in a graduate role.

Education for Sustainable Development

There is currently significant national and international interest in climate action. Later this year the UK will host the Glasgow Climate Conference, an international meeting of leaders to take forward co-ordinated action. Delegates from around the world will discuss progress towards preventing severe ecological and humanitarian catastrophes caused by rising global temperatures and extreme weather events. Young people are very concerned about the slow progress towards averting the climate crisis, and the school strikes show that future university students will be expecting their institutions to provide them with the skills and knowledge to address the challenges of climate change, regardless of their chosen discipline

School Strike 4 Climate, Demonstrations, Zagreb
Young people are campaigning for their education to teach them about the solutions

An overwhelming majority of current university students are concerned or very concerned about climate change. A number of UK universities have also declared ‘climate emergencies’ in recognition of the need for substantial action to avoid catastrophic environmental change. With its high priority for university senior managers and for students and prospective students, climate change has significant implications for the work of learning developers.

This renewed and widespread interest in sustainability provided the ideal context for the QAA and Advance HE launch their revised guidance on education for sustainable development (ESD) in late March 2021. The guidance calls for whole-institution approaches to developing the skills, knowledge and competencies in students and staff to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). These address the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability, and are so wide ranging that many programmes would be addressing them in some way, often without even realising it.

The SGDs can be a useful starting point for discussions with course teams about enhancing learning, teaching and assessment practices. Learning developers can play an important role supporting course teams in embedding ESD, enhancing students’ skills so they can meaningfully contribute to the scientific and societal challenges of climate change.

Sustainable Development Goals to kick in with start of new year | | UN News
The UN Sustainable Development Goals: see https://sdgs.un.org/goals

Authentic learning and assessment

The new QAA ESD guidance highlights the value of authentic learning and assessment to engage students. It includes a set of key competencies that can be mapped into programmes through learning outcomes at programme and module level. They are structured around ways of thinking, ways of practicing and ways of being. Our research has shown that higher-level skills and competencies in geography, for example, can be best developed through authentic climate change teaching, using approaches such as big data analysis, data visualisation, rapid sharing of information, and professional self-reflection.

For learning developers, supporting students as they develop these skills and competencies requires what for many are new approaches. Those working in learning development might not find them all so new – sustainability and climate change are drivers to push curriculum design to catch-up with long-standing learning development values. Traditional essays, which remain common in many degree assessment strategies, are likely to be replaced with more creative and innovative assessments to develop these skills. Academic conventions (e.g. referencing) will be less important than data acquisition, repurposing and innovation. There will be increased emphasis on critical thinking about data sources – the traditional module syllabus of knowledge will emphasise applied skills and outcomes, rather than academic theory and practice.

  • Are you seeing this transition in academic programmes in your institution?
  • What types of professional development would be helpful for you to be an effective academic developer supporting ESD?
People Discussion, Meeting, Discussion, Team, People
Students are enthusiastic to work on climate and sustainability related projects

Scaffolding authentic learning

We interviewed colleagues from diverse disciplines including business, humanities and sciences, who all spoke of how a focus on sustainability gradually increased the authenticity of learning activities during undergraduate degrees. This meant that students could practice in first and second year modules the skills they required to succeed in final year ‘live’ projects with external organisations or in workplace settings. The benefits of this are clear: students deploy their knowledge of sustainability in a cause that benefits both their own education and society – a form of service learning – and help universities build positive relationships with their local community.

However, equipping students to do this effectively requires careful scaffolding of the curriculum, so that students are able to acquire the high-level skills and attitudes (e.g. negotiation, resilience, professionalism, adaptability etc.) required for live projects. Our research suggests this is often not done effectively.

Sometimes these skills are technical, for example, poor programme design meant students could not effectively participate in a community GIS module in their third year because they could not undertake a relevant second year module on their pathway.

More often the challenges were around assessment types, with students concerned to produce novel and authentic outputs such as a policy-focused report or a business plan for the first time in their final year. Interviewees spoke of many examples where the curriculum structure did not allow scaffolding to occur, and students struggled to complete these sorts of assessment effectively through lack of ‘skills’. Lack of thought in curriculum design may mean some students are blocked from taking a second year module that would provide them with the opportunities to develop key skills needed in a third year module.

Whilst the problem is often framed in terms of the student, who lacks key skills; from a learning developer perspective, is there a role in working with the academics involved to look at what adjustments they need to make? A key issue was that modules were often designed in isolation, so that programme assessment and teaching strategies were poorly-developed or incoherent.

Scaffolding, Ladder, Building, Shadow
Scaffolding student’s learning needs more attention in programme design

We advocate for the importance of effective learning development to address and develop more effective scaffolding on degree programmes. Some of these programme shortcomings could be addressed through centrally-run or programme-level study skills sessions for students.

A more effective approach is for learning developers to use their skills and experiences from working with students to identify where scaffolding is lacking in programme design, and feed into ongoing programme review processes to support enhancements. Ideally, learning developers should be embedded in programme and module design processes to design-in scaffolded approaches to benefit all students.

  • What can learning developers do to enhance programme level design approaches?
  • What tools and approaches have you used to engage programme design teams with scaffolding?

Academic and professional services collaboration

The QAA guidance emphasises that ESD is ‘not only an academic activity’. Our research, and discussions at conferences, have pointed to the importance of partnership and collaborative working for effective climate change teaching.

Some of the best examples of climate change teaching were developed between professional services and academics – for example, developing an energy-saving campaign with the estates team and analysing the data to develop numeracy and reporting skills. The ‘real world’ aspect of authentic learning can be found in the various supporting services found in universities, that are typical of many large organisations (e.g. finance, IT, marketing, human resources and careers, estates). Learning developers can bring together academics and services colleagues to develop these learning experiences.

Earth, Planet, Continents, Light, Pear, Light Bulb
Students can bring new insights into what will approaches connect best with their peers

We think that this opportunity is clearly aligned with ALDinHE’s own manifesto which says learning development ‘infiltrates throughout the university…connecting and collaborating with the wider community’. The academic literature also highlights learning developers are increasingly ‘bridge-builders’ between academics and central policy and strategy. They are therefore in a strategic position to support ESD by creating connections among academics and professional services.

We suggest the key role for learning developers here is to ask the right questions of academics during curriculum development, assessment design and programme review. Are there on-campus sustainability projects that students can engage with, or that can be co-developed between students and professional services? What opportunities are there to develop employability or professional skills in a sustainable development context?

  • Do you have any examples or experience of supporting effective collaboration to embed sustainability or climate change into HE teaching?

Final thoughts

We hope that we have provided some interesting points for the learning developer community and academic course teams to reflect on. There is a clear move in UK higher education towards ESD, and the renewed guidance from the QAA and the Glasgow Climate Conference will be focusing attention on what is happening in universities.

In the past learning developers may have been discouraged from discussing climate change with programme teams, feeling they lack technical climate expertise. As this blog shows, it is learning developers deploying their existing skills working with students and course teams that is needed.

We are keen that learning developers are supported to contribute to the discussion and bring their expertise to enhance student learning. We very much welcome your comments and feedback on our thinking so far.


Dr Iain Cross is currently Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and a Senior Fellow of the HEA. He has previously been a lecturer in geography. In his current role, he oversees academic professional development and cross-institutional initiatives to enhance the student experience and curriculum development, and teaches on the PgCert in Academic Practice. He has undertaken research into teaching climate change in higher education with Dr Congreve, and recently published articles on BAME student employability and authentic learning. He has a BSc in Environmental Geography from University College London and a PhD in lake ecology from the University of Nottingham. https://www.linkedin.com/in/iaincross/

Dr Alina Congreve: has worked as a lecturer and principal lecturer at several universities including LSE, Reading and Hertfordshire. At Hertfordshire she established and led the MSc in Sustainable Planning. In 2018-19 she worked as a programme manager at Climate KIC, running postgraduate and professional courses developing solutions to climate change challenges. She currently works freelance designing and delivering professional development and short courses for a number of organisations including universities and professional bodies. She holds an MSc in Conservation from UCL and PhD in housing and sustainability from King’s College London.


#Take5 #59 Building a Study Community through Podcasts at the University of Glasgow

This month’s #Take5 post is brought to you by Dr Micky Ross and Dr Julia Bohlmann at the University of Glasgow. We asked them to contribute because we were blown away by their ScotHELD session on the way they had used podcasting as part of their repertoire of responses to Covid-19 and the rapid change that we all went through adjusting to online delivery of our provision.

Who we are and why we embraced the pod

We are Dr Micky Ross and Dr Julia Bohlmann – the International Team at the University of Glasgow’s Learning Enhancement and Academic Development Service (LEADS). We work with international students from all subject areas, so there is always a lot to do. Until last year we never quite got around to expanding our online provision. But the enforced transition to remote learning, while initially a challenge, gave us an opportunity to try out new ways of teaching. We decided to embrace the challenge and created podcasts that ran alongside our academic writing classes.

First: Find your microphone

Why podcasts?

Maintaining a learning community

There are so many reasons to introduce podcasting to your teaching and learning practice. For us, the first reason was to maintain the learning community that we had established in the months before remote learning started due to lockdown in Scotland. A big concern for us was how we were going to keep our students engaged (Kahn et. al., 2017; Nordman et.al., 2020). We knew that the casual conversations that we had with students after lectures and workshops were important:

  • to get to know and keeping in touch with our students, and
  • informally provide solutions for students’ learning problems.

When we started podcasting, we did so with little idea about how it would go or what success we would have. It turned out to be a big success for us. And now that we have had a chance to reflect on the experience, we can see why. Podcasting as part of teaching and learning engages students because it brings a typically formal discourse into an informal setting. By doing this it brings a sense of authenticity to the content and this in turn works really well to reinforce key learning points after a week of provision.

Engaging with relevant pedagogy

We recorded our podcasts with a live and participating student audience. This meant that learners could bring questions and respond directly to the content. This participation allowed learners to direct the flow of the podcast, which, for us, spoke to so much of the fundamentals of what we are trying to achieve in terms of pedagogy. For example, our sessions are active and democratic (Dewey, 1916. 1939) and dialogic and problem-posing (Freire, 1993). Letting students take part in the podcasts was key as it underlined those principles.

To encourage students to take part, we created options to:

  • simply listen,
  • contribute by unmuting,
  • contribute by posting a question publicly in the chat, or
  • by contributing with a high level of anonymity by messaging us directly, during the live podcast.

Creating synchronous and asynchronous content

After the live podcast, we posted the recording of the session, with an audio-transcript, to our virtual learning environment, creating provision with synchronous and asynchronous content.

Enjoying our teaching practice

Another reason to start podcasting was that we really enjoyed it. In our experience, it was fun, informal, and collaborative. There were no slides dictating the direction of travel. The dialogue mirrored an academic debate and had the added benefit of decreasing the power distance between the students and us as teachers, something that is crucial in familiarising international students with the active and participatory academic culture in the UK.

The podcasts were not standalone events, but closely embedded into our provision in that they rounded up a week’s classes. As our provision typically lasts for 5 consecutive weeks at a time, we created a series of five podcasts. They aired on Zoom once a week on Thursdays and were 50-60 minutes long. We then posted the recording as audio or video file onto the relevant Moodle course. The podcast format itself combined scripted with unscripted conversation. Aiming for a good flow was important to us because we wanted the podcast to be relatively informal. The podcasts worked best when we had a guest speaker as it added variety and brought the debate to life.

While we aimed for flow, we created a rough plan for each episode. For instance, we decided who would chair the episode. That person would keep an eye on time and decide what questions to ask and when. We would start each episode with a brief reminder of the themes we had covered during the week and planned to discuss in the podcast. We then introduced our guest speaker and invited students to post questions in the chat. As we moved through the themes, we would pick up on related student questions and integrate them into the debate. Towards the end the main speakers would be asked to provide take home messages, summing up what has been said and the chair would announce the classes for the upcoming week.

We would definitely recommend that you book a guest speaker early on, ideally before the semester starts. We all know how quickly our diaries fill up. Make sure to plan out the session, but not too much. Write a short intro script if you need it. Identify the key themes that should be talked about. Add some visuals to your plan such as screenshots of slides. Think about how you might transition from one theme to the next.

Could there be a natural way to connect two themes, for example, when discussing literature reviews? It’s quite common to look for literature first before moving on to think about how you might structure the review. Or when discussing methods there is probably some overlap between gathering and analysing data which can provide a bridge into the conversation.

Note down some questions that you might want to ask, just in case the conversation isn’t flowing as well as you had hoped. Share your plan with the podcast contributors so they know what to expect. They might want to add some questions or points they definitely want to address. See below for an example plan:

An extract from our podcast plan

The feedback we received from students was really encouraging and heart-warming:

  • ‘I wanted to personally say I value your hard work and personal effort to keep the academic community together while delivering the sessions.’
  • ‘Thank you so much for guiding and accompanying my journey.’
  • ‘I just wanted to drop a line to say hello and thank you and Micky for the workshops. I find them not only helpful but caring and providing good company in the way you address them.’
  • ‘Very enlightening stuff.’
  • ‘It [the podcast] is the best part of my day.’

What the comments express is what we aimed to achieve with the podcast: to give students the feeling that they still belonged to our learning community at the University of Glasgow and for us all to come out of our prescribed roles as teachers and students, instead coming together simply as people having an informal conversation about learning.

The feedback that we received from guest speakers was very positive and underscored how enjoyable the teaching experience had been.

  • “Doing the podcast with Micky and Julia was a really positive way of connecting with colleagues and sharing knowledge about a specific area we were interested in whilst, at the same time, passing on our shared knowledge to students. I didn’t know most of the participants before I started but, by the end, I felt like I had met new people in my field, learned from them and established connections which I feel I could maintain and develop.  I’d never done podcasting before, but I would really recommend it. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.”
  • “The Podcasts are such a great way to revisit topics in an informal way.  The conversation-style lends itself to sharing organic stories about experiences with the topic instead of a prepared slide.  The students enjoy the banter and benefit from multiple perspectives about each topic and question.”

The comments may also give an indication of how important coming together was during the lockdowns and teaching completely online.

A picture containing text, wall, monitor, indoor

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Screenshot from one of our first podcasts

The podcasts were a great way to build and maintain a learning and teaching community online and as the student feedback suggests, it had its desired effect. It was also great for us as teachers as they brought something fresh to our teaching practice. They also helped us to engage with the relevant pedagogy in a new way and in doing so, bringing a fresh perspective to ‘old’ ideas.

Going forward we are going to reflect on how to hone their delivery. We also want to ensure the podcasts continuity beyond lockdown. So, we need to think about now, how we blend this new (for us) online format with face-to-face classes, so we are prepared to bring the podcasts into a future on and not just off campus.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1939). Freedom and culture. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum.

Kahn, P., Everington, L., Kelm, K., Reid, I. & Watkins, F. (2017). ‘Understanding student engagement in online learning environments: the role of reflexivity’, Educational technology research and development, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 203-218.

Nordmann, E., Horlin, C., Hutchison, J., Murray, J., Robson, L., Seery, M.K. & MacKay, J.R.D. (2020). ‘Ten simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education’, PLoS Computational Biology, vol. 16, no. 10, pp. e1008242-e1008242.


Micky Ross is a Learning Developer at the University of Glasgow where he teaches critical thinking, student academic citizenship, effective essay writing, effective reading and intercultural communication. He has a PhD in Education and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is committed to holistic approaches to learning and teaching, education for empowerment and social change, and innovative practice.

Julia Bohlmann is a Learning Developer at the University of Glasgow where she teaches effective reading and writing practices, exam techniques, plagiarism prevention, group work and intercultural communication. She has a PhD in Film Studies and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Julia has presented her work at conferences and written about international student development in the Journal of Academic Writing: https://publications.coventry.ac.uk/index.php/joaw/article/view/618.

#Take5 #58 From ‘Text’ to ‘Teapot’ to ‘Tinkerbell’ – Supporting Students in their Subjects

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Kendall Richards and NIck Pilcher of Edinburgh Napier University – who presented on this topic at the fabulous ScotHELD Winter 2021 Conference.

Who we are – and why we wrote this blog

We are Kendall Richards and Nick Pilcher. We are lecturers at Edinburgh Napier University. Kendall is in the School of Computing and Nick is in the Business School. Kendall has worked in Australia and the UK in Academic Advice roles, Nick has worked in Scotland in EAP and support roles. We have a recent paper entitled ‘Study Skills: neoliberalism’s perfect Tinkerbell’ which we spoke about at a recent Scottish Higher Education Learning Developers event, and wanted to write a bit more about it here.

In this blog we critique ‘one size fits all’ models of ‘study skills’ support which are ‘embedded’ into the curriculum – you know the sort of thing: “Can you come and run a session on the essay?”. We argue that not only is this a reductive and overly ‘universaling’ approach, it serves to reinforce unhelpful neoliberal models of HE, of widening participation and of widening participation students.

As we wrestled with this model of ‘skills’ work in our own practice, we decided to work with discipline staff to uncover what ‘language work’ they felt was necessary in their subjects – and with their students. The answers that we got were surprising – and served to transform our approach to supporting students in the subject – and to the type of curriculum-based support that we offered. Below we describe how we got to where we are now in our approach to Learning Development – and suggest ways that others can do the same. But first – why ‘Tinkerbell’?


Study Skills as neoliberalism’s Tinkerbell

For us, ‘Study Skills’ is a Tinkerbell, a nostrum that people believe in as providing a magic cure for all ‘student ills’ (sic) but which only exists if people believe in it. Why do we argue this?

Firstly, we find a range of definitions of what this nebulous field of ‘study skills’ or Learning Development is: Academic Skills, Academic Advice, Study Support etc. The very range and subliminal quality making it universal: fit for everyone but specific to no one.

Secondly, we posit that each subject requires unique skills – they don’t transfer (see the excellent Hyland and Johnson noted below). In other words, the skills you need as a Nurse might not save you if you have to choose which wire to cut on a fuse box. What do you really need? You need subject knowledge.

Thirdly, ‘Study Skills’ can’t be embedded, whether it’s ‘generic’ or ‘specific’ it is still a magical Tinkerbell we argue. Why? Because where we read papers that say ‘embedded’ skills support works, it only does so with subject lecturers on hand to help – and the students say what they find the least helpful aspects of such support are the ‘Study Skills’ aspects. What they find the most helpful is – you can guess what we’ll write by now we think – subject content.

Fourthly, it’s not ‘Study Skills’ that enables you to present or write well – it’s subject knowledge. Essays are different for different subjects and lecturers – and so are reports (of which there are a vast range of types). If Nick talks about the Battle of Smolensk in the Second World War you may think to yourself – ‘Wow, he has great presentation skills!’, but if Nick talks about Game Theory’s application to HE decision-making you may think, ‘Oh my, he needs work on his presentation skills!’ And yet, the key factor in both cases is subject knowledge, not any ‘Study Skills’.

How on earth did we get here?

So who, or what, do we argue, does Study Skills serve? We argue it serves perfectly the goals of neoliberal ideology and political economy – it is universal, can be delivered by anyone, can be virtualised, represents a light touch ‘state’ delivered from a central source, and students are ‘responsibilised’ to go and find it for themselves.

It supports reductive arguments for massification: the help is there – so if you (lecturers and students) don’t go for it – then it is only your own fault – it’s not a problem of massification or large numbers you have to deal with – the help is there.

How did this system come about? We argue through a combination of what Giddens calls structuration (whereby structures exist already and are then reinforced by people following them) and what Lukes calls the third dimension of power: the power to get people to act (or to remain passive and not rebel) against their own best interests.

So that’s us describing our current thinking – we now want to describe how we arrived here, and suggest how others can adapt our strategies to their own contexts.

Text and Textual Analysis

As noted above – our backgrounds are from EAP and Academic Support. We’ve both taught English and then moved into Academic Advice and support. We were thus schooled in, and for many years operated in, a world of pure ‘Text’: Textual analytical techniques (genre analysis; corpus linguistics) will tell us what we need to know to help students.

And yet … on the back of seeing that different subjects seemed to focus on different criteria when they used the term ‘discuss’, Kendall had an idea for a project: of asking lecturers and students what they understood key assessment words to mean. This led us to question the solidity of any dictionary definitions.

We next went further to ask lecturers in a range of subjects the very base question of: ‘What ‘English’ do students need to succeed?’

They said some don’t need English; they said some needed Visual abilities; some needed Emotional abilities; some could express themselves using Mathematics.

We were confused – how do we help these students with ‘Text’ and with ‘Text-based’ techniques? The answer arrived at was simple: ‘we don’t’ and ‘we can’t’.

The frozen rock after the language had erupted

What we had found at the time, although we didn’t realise it, was what Wittgenstein notes as being ‘the language itself as the thought’ and ‘the language itself as the activity’ – and we had found it because we had seen it and asked about it in the context of the subject.

And yet – we hadn’t found actual examples of it – we’d only found statements of what Valentin Voloshinov describes as the key underpinning ‘psychological and ideological elements’ of the language beneath the ‘hard crust’ of frozen rock after the language had erupted.

We know we hadn’t realised ‘perfectly’, because we still felt we could ask about the language students needed using spoken ‘Text’ techniques – focus groups in our case.

We ran five very lengthy, very logistically challenging, and very demanding-to-transcribe focus groups with lecturers from different subjects. We had about five to six members in each, biscuits, coffee, tea, we asked them all about:

‘Did they agree there were these underlying elements in their subjects?’

‘Yes’ they all said.

And then we asked them:

‘Could they give us some examples of language students would use?’

‘No’, they said.

Well, we lie slightly, as out of a total of over seven hours of painstakingly transcribed focus group data, we gathered a total of ‘four words’. However, what we did gather was their confusion (‘I don’t know what the question is Nick?’) and the knowledge that if we wanted to access the language students needed in the subject, then this wasn’t the way.

From ‘Text’ to ‘Teapot’

We had reached an impasse. Then, it dawned on Kendall that when he had taken in a brightly coloured teapot to Design students they had very animatedly discussed it, passed it to one another and spoken of it in Design terms, critiquing its Design and describing its Design.

Our teapot

What would happen, Kendall wondered, if we took this teapot and gave it to lecturers and asked them to describe it and critique it from their own subject perspectives?

What happened was that in very short interviews we gained immediate access to the subject world and learned more about what students needed in those brief moments than we had in countless hours spent trying to see through the use of ‘Text’.

For Nurses the teapot was unhygienic, dangerous. For Designers it was Memphis school. For Engineers it was a porous non-mass producible item.

What we came to realise we had done was – we’d provided a context, we’d given lecturers a direct opportunity to provide what Wittgenstein describes as seeing ‘the language itself’ ‘as the thought’.

So what do we do now? In support classes where we have mixed subject groups we take in a physical object to describe the importance of writing in the subject context and talk about how different subjects would critique the object in their own ways – and in their own words. Nick uses a water bottle or a pen, anything can be used. What we don’t use though, is ‘Study Skills’.

What we suggest

It won’t surprise you to know that what we suggest is that students are supported in the subject. And yet we realise this isn’t easy. The systems as they are today are built to promote generic centralized support – collaboration in the disciplines is hard to do.

What we ultimately suggest is that we/you promote more the value of what Academic Advisors and those working in Study Skills units do. Big it up. Tell people through formal and informal channels what it is that we/you do – and what you can accomplish together. Where possible work with individual lecturers on particular small projects and interventions. If you can and are allowed to. (A big tip would then be to write up with that discipline academic a case study of what you achieved together and get it published.)

Draw on the arguments above (and below) to make the case for support in the subject. Ask the National Students Association (NSA) to make the case that it is this sort of help in the subject that students need. Make arguments with department heads that they need school based Academic Advice for their students, get the NSA to make these arguments.

We know this is easier said than done, and we fear that unless systemic change happens at a governmental level, that our situations and the systems that perpetuate them are unlikely to greatly change. However, we hope that the above and the below can be used to underline the value of what Academic Advisors and those working in Study Skills units do, so it is recognised and valued and accorded academic roles, and fundamentally, that student support is better delivered to, for and with students to give them what they need.

Papers referred or alluded to:

Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2020). Study Skills: neoliberalism’s perfect Tinkerbell. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-17.

Hyland, T., & Johnson, S. (1998). Of cabbages and key skills: Exploding the mythology of core transferable skills in post‐school education. Journal of Further and Higher Education22(2), 163-172.

Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2014). Contextualising higher education assessment task words with an ‘anti-glossary’approach. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education27(5), 604-625.

Pilcher, N., & Richards, K. (2016). The paradigmatic hearts of subjects which their ‘English’ flows through. Higher Education Research & Development35(5), 997-1010.

Richards, K., & Pilcher, N. (2020). Using physical objects as a portal to reveal academic subject identity and thought. The Qualitative Report25(1), 127-144.

Bios and Blurbs

Kendall Richards is a lecturer with the role of academic support adviser in the school of Computing supporting the schools of Engineering and the Built Environment and Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University (UK). His research interests include pedagogy, academic support, education as social justice and Neoliberalism’s impact on Higher Education. He has contributed to a number of journals including the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Higher Education Research and Development, Teaching in Higher Education, Maritime Business Review and Power and Education.

Nick Pilcher is a lecturer in The Business School at Edinburgh Napier University. He teaches a range of areas including supporting students with their academic work. His research interests centre around education, language and qualitative research methods. He has published and contributed to work published in journals such as Qualitative Research, Psychology of Music, the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education and the International Journal of Shipping and Transport Logistics.

Twitter: We don’t have twitter ourselves but the journal has a twitter feed – it is @TeachinginHE

#Take5 #53 The best way to get your students to engage…

This #Take5 post is brought to you from Dr Carina Buckley of Solent University – and is in dialogue with her #Take5 on students and camera use in online teaching and learning from a few weeks ago.

The Evil DrB herself

Should your students turn their cameras on? A rebuttal

A few weeks ago, I argued in this blog that students should be free to choose whether or not to turn their cameras on during live online sessions, and that there were other ways for students to participate. While I still support this approach, particularly from a student-centred, theoretical point of view, I find myself compelled to also argue against it, from the perspective of a learning developer in practice.

Is anybody there?

How many of us have talked to a screen of initials, wondering if anyone will answer our increasingly desperate questions in the chat, wondering indeed if anyone is there at all?

There is an array of literature available on developing learning communities, building cohort identities, establishing a learning environment of trust and participation, and it all shares a common belief in the essential centrality of these activities to creating and strengthening an effective group of peers mutually engaged in co-constructing knowledge. One of the values of ALDinHE itself is to work side by side with students in making sense of higher education practices.

The value is in the conversation (photo courtesy http://www.pixabay.com CC)

Now let us leave Utopia, and travel to the less affirming scenario of a drop-in workshop with students you’ve never met before and who don’t know each other, and who are all sat anonymously behind a darkened computer screen. Suddenly the supportive attitude towards cameras-off seems more difficult to maintain.

Let’s say you have a group of ten, all waiting (you assume) to hear what you have to say about, for example, academic writing. Seven of them respond to your Mentimeter poll; four of them share suggestions in the chat. What of the others? There’s no way of telling, because you can’t see them, and have no sense of feedback on how the session is going, either written or gestural.

Is anybody there? (photo courtesy www.pixabay.com CC)

Building community

Visual cues are vital, not just for us as teachers and facilitators but for the students themselves. How can they feel like part of a community when they can’t see that community? One thing I would make mandatory would be a photo on a profile page, so we could see at least a representation of who we are talking to. However, not having that power, I content myself with recommendation.

Being on camera for hours every day is tiring; cameras and bandwidth remain real issues for some. But there has to be scope for compromise, and being forced to follow compromise rather than dictate rules, I suggest the following:

  • Have your students turn their cameras on at least for the first two minutes as they arrive, to say hello to everyone. Keep repeating the message as new class members arrive.
  • Have your students turn on their cameras in breakout rooms. Most students seem to be fine with this, anecdotally, and you can always demonstrate what it’s like to have a disembodied voice talking to you by turning your own camera off for a bit.
  • Set a rationale and expectations for camera use that are student-focussed.
  • Show your students how to set alternative backgrounds and encourage them to upload favourite holiday photos (for example) to use.
  • Don’t talk so much. Ensure the majority of the session, where possible, is activity- or discussion-based, thereby avoiding the whole issue of you talking to a screen of blank squares.

Building a vibrant, online community (photo courtesy www.pixabay.com CC)

Any suggestions?

What are your suggestions? We are all learning together right now how we do this well, so it would be great to share practice and open up the conversation more widely. How have your students responded?


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

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

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


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

Students these days… don’t turn their cameras on

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

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

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

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

Let’s flip that: why should they?

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

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

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

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

But we are more amazing

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

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

Photos: A range of images taken from Zoom meetings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did I find out?

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

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

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

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

How does the Learning Development community feel about these changes?

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

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

And what is the plan at the University of Northampton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this space and I will report back!

Kate’s Blurb:

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

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

#Take5 #46 The Best Way to Shake Up Academic Publishing?

This #Take5 is brought to you from Dr Chris Little. Chris is a Learning Developer and Teaching Fellow in Keele University’s Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence and serves on the editorial board of Innovative Practice in Higher Education. Chris writes about the journal – with a special focus on their new poster section.

Publish Your Poster Presentations with Innovative Practice in Higher Education

Innovative Practice in Higher Education (IPIHE) is an independent online journal currently, and very kindly, hosted at Staffordshire University. The journal is an opportunity for any colleagues in HE to share their innovations in delivering teaching and learning, with our editorial board consisting of lecturers, learning developers, consultants and learning technologists. Our main aim is to promote and foster a research culture amongst all practitioners in Higher Education who have an interest in the development of the HE student experience. We have a broad readership and our editorial team features representatives from 10 universities from Birmingham City University, to Manchester Metropolitan University, to Ulster University and many in between.

The journal is interdisciplinary in approach and accepts papers of 3000-5000 words, short papers and ‘student voices’ papers (first-hand reflective accounts of innovative practices from the learners’ perspective). We double-blind peer-review all publications (except for book reviews) and the Journal is now, as of April 2020, into its fourth volume and ninth year! You can view that volume here: http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe/issue/view/17

We are particularly proud of our posters section which is a new way of sharing innovation in teaching and learning. Each poster publication is presented with an accompanying podcast which gives more context and detail to the content.

How do we publish Poster Presentations?

We go beyond simply hosting the PDF on the website and expect our authors to produce an abstract, PDF poster and accompanying audio file, talking through the posters. You can view my very own MP3 audio file here. This gives authors the chance to fill in the gaps, as a good poster should not simply be an essay on the page after all! It also, in some instances, gives people the opportunity to do a more fleshed out presentation than they might do at an actual conference.

The big question – why do we publish Poster Presentations?

We have published posters in the Journal since the very beginning, in 2011. As we seek to promote innovative practice in HE, we are keen to accept work presented in an innovative format, such as posters, as this aligns with our purpose. Moreover, part of our mission is to encourage staff to start publishing their work, and for some, a poster is a more appropriate starting point.

Publishing your work with us also gives you an external, academic output, that can be used to support recognition schemes such as the ALDinHE Certified Practitioner and Certified Leading Practitioner schemes, Advance HE Fellowships, ALT Certified Member Applications and SEDA Fellowships, amongst others. These all require, and encourage, taking your work beyond your students and colleagues, we offer a place for this sharing of practice!

What’s the experience like?

We’ve published some excellent posters and our authors have had a really valuable experience in the process:

“As for how I found the process, it was very smooth and clear. At that stage, I had not submitted any work to a publication and this was an ideal first step that gave me confidence and pride to be accepted. The feedback process was very good and supportive. I received some contacts from the poster and that led to networking with other academics. The process was invaluable to me” (http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe/article/view/124).

Karl McCormack, Course Leader, Accounting, Staffordshire University, @@KMccormackSU

Some other excellent posters for you to browse:

Poster by Dr Carmel Thomason, Senior Lecturer – Journalism, Manchester Metropolitan University (http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe/article/view/155/276).

Poster by Sarah-Jane Stevens, Lecturer in Public Health, University of Wolverhampton (http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe/article/view/148/268)

Poster by Dr Chris Little, Learning Developer, University of Keele, @drlittle26 (http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe/article/view/203/313)

Speaking personally, as the author of this blog but also as an author of a poster in IPiHE, the process is really interesting. The angle for my poster (above) actually came from conversations at the 2019 ALDinHE Annual Conference in Exeter. I had some really thought-provoking questions at the end of my talk at that #aldcon19, extending beyond my topic – and more about who engages with my undergraduate conference at Keele. So, I did the digging, found IPiHE and got my poster together.

So, you have a poster – how can you engage with IPIHE and get your work out there?

For those colleagues with posters from previous conferences – providing you still have your electronic files – you can simply record an accompanying talk, proofread your abstract and get it over to us via the methods below.

If your conference has unfortunately been postponed due to the ongoing crisis, please do consider publishing it with us. Providing you have time and capacity to do so, reworking your poster to have an audio commentary is not a huge piece of work and can give your research further reach. It might give you the chance to fine-tune your pitch and poster ahead of any rescheduled conferences!

There are a growing number of pedagogical conferences out there that fully embrace the input and value of HE professionals such as Learning Developers, Academic Developers, Librarians, Learning Technologists and Independent Consultants as highly as they do colleagues who teach and shape learning from lectureships or teaching fellowships.

You guys sound awesome, where can I find you?

You can get in touch with our posters editors team through emailing one of the following people:

Ursula Chaney, Ulster University, u.chaney@ulster.ac.uk, @ursula_chaney

Chris Little, Keele University, c.w.r.little@keele.ac.uk, @drlittle26

Dave Thomas, Independent Consultant, theonlydaveathome@gmail.com

You could also visit our website and check out our brilliant April 2020 edition via http://journals.staffs.ac.uk/index.php/ipihe and give us a follow on Twitter via @IPiHE1.

We love our posters, and all our other sections for that matter, so please do consider publishing your posters with us and any full-length papers you might have. We have a passion for educational and pedagogical research, so next time you’re thinking about getting your work out there, think IPIHE! (Was that cheesy enough?)

Author bio

Dr Chris Little is a Learning Developer and Teaching Fellow in Keele University’s Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence. Chris currently offers undergraduate/postgraduate teaching and curriculum design consultancy across Keele’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, while lecturing and personal tutoring across all three years of Keele’s Masters in Higher Education Practice. Chris is also the creator and project lead for Keele’s annual JADE Student Learning Undergraduate Conference, now in its fifth year.

Chris has previously held lecturing and support posts in both further and higher education and holds a PGCE in Post-Compulsory Education and Masters in Teaching and Learning Higher Education. Chris is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Certified Leading Practitioner of ALDinHE and a Certified Member of the Association of Learning Technologists (CMALT). Chris is also a member of the LearnHigher working group.

#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