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

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




Growing and Flourishing

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

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

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

What has changed? 

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

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

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

  • Journal
  • Research funding
  • Scholarly activity
Operational areas:

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

  • Conference
  • Regional events
  • Communications
  • Partnerships and collaborations

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

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

Welcome to the new ALDinHE steering group

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

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

Working groups : Now is your chance to get involved

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

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

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

Interested in joining the steering group? 

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


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


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

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

Our Kate

Selling it: Why engage colleagues?

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

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

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

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

Our Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

New starters, follow up by LD Tutor + liaison model

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

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

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

Blind Dates – L&T Conferences, Development Days 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Stortelling in Learning Development

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

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

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

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

Pic 1 Acting out stories (author’s own)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Take5 #24: The Best Way to Commute?

The birth of our online resource: Studying on your commute

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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



#Take5 #22: The best way to make PhD Students write?

The Thesis Boot Camp

Thank you to Heather Campbell for this #Take5 post

Take twenty-six PhD students, keep them in a room for 24 hours over a weekend, feed them, water them, motivate them and encourage them, and what happens? They write. In fact, collectively they write over 200,000 words towards their theses.

Here at Queen Mary University of London the Thinking Writing team have just completed our fourth Thesis Boot Camp and the event seems to be going from strength to strength. The premise of providing the time, space and motivation for PhD students to write may be a simple one, but the impact of the boot camp on the students seems to be immense. One reason is that we also provide something less immediately obvious – support. Whether it be gently pushing them to achieve more than they think they can, helping them to overcome writers’ block, or being a shoulder to cry on when the task of completing a thesis seems overwhelming, students often state in their feedback how reinvigorated they are. They’ve realised they can do it. They can write a thesis!

Thesis Boot Camp is not easy – not for the students and not for the staff. Preparations start months in advance, when application forms have to be judged as to who would get the most from the Thesis Boot Camp. Last May we had over fifty applications for twenty-six places, so we would factor in, who is closest to their final deadline and so forth? Rooms have to be booked, food has to be ordered, out-of-hours cleaners and porters informed. By now we’re a well-oiled machine in organising pizza deliveries, stocking up on tea and biscuits, booking Pilates teachers and finding fans or blankets at the last minute, but it still requires a lot of time.

Generally speaking, the days are divided into large chunks of time when the students are writing, interspersed with some group discussions and short activities around goal setting, motivation and writing. We also build into the schedule an ‘active break’ on the Sat and Sun (hence the Pilates teacher) as we find that sitting down for long periods of time is not the best for the body. Starting at 4pm on Friday, Thesis Boot Camp runs until 8pm that day, and on Sat and Sun goes from 9:30am to 8:30pm. Since students are not encouraged to leave Thesis Boot Camp once they get here, we provide all the food – dinner on Friday, lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday, and tea, coffee, water, juice, fruit, biscuits, crisps, and pastries throughout.

With no distractions, and nothing to worry about except writing, the amount of words the students produce during Thesis Boot Camp is significant. To prepare them for this we send out a series of emails in the run up to the boot camp with advice and information, and pre-boot camp tasks. The idea of Thesis Boot Camp is to write, not to read or to plan, so we encourage students to do all of this beforehand, so they arrive ready to write. And to make the push to write a bit more fun, we give out some squishy blocks (see picture). You get a green block when you write 5,000 words, a blue one when you reach 10,000, red for 15,000 and the rare ‘gold’ (*ahem* yellow) block for 20,000 words written over the weekend! These may be highly intelligent PhD students, but that doesn’t stop them getting excited about getting a squishy lego block!

So popular have our Thesis Boot Camps been that this July we are organising our first mini Thesis Boot Camp – same premise but will take place over one and a half days rather than two and a half. Fingers are crossed that this proves as useful for students as its bigger brother does!




Heather Campbell works for Thinking Writing, Learning Development at Queen Mary University of London. Thinking Writing is the part of Learning Development that works with academic colleagues and students around thinking and writing: thinking, writing, and thinking about writing. They help with designing modules and assessments, developing tasks and materials, teaching – on a collaborative basis – and practical advice on helping students with writing and running writing or reading retreats (including the Thesis Boot Camp).






#Take5 #19: Learning Development – the best values?

For this #Take5 we have we have invited Helen Webster from Newcastle University to blog about Learning Development values. This is in honour of our ALDinHE Conference, 10-12 April, University of Hull: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/events/9/aldinhe_conference_2017.html?p=7_9, and follows her recent interesting discussion on the LDHEN list.  So – thank you Helen! Everybody else – do leave a comment – pass the post on – have a great Conference … and think about offering your own blogpost very soon!

The Value(s) of Learning Development

What are professional values? I remember when I was doing my teacher training that values didn’t really get much attention in amongst all the complex abstract education theory we were learning. They definitely seemed a bit ‘fluffy’ and irrelevant amidst the practicalities of my early teaching placements. I wasn’t very sure what a value was, let alone what my own values as a teacher were. It’s only later in my career as a learning developer that I’ve come to reflect on how much my values, even half-articulated, underpin everything I do in my teaching practice, how important they are to our status as professionals, and how very practical a tool they can be. Values give us the ethical principles to interrogate and guide our practice as professionals and therefore standards to aspire to and hold ourselves to account to. They are a means of communicating and building trust with those we work with.

This thinking led me to undertake an exercise in our learning development team, in which we established the professional values we aim to embody in our work. This allowed us to reflect on our beliefs and assumptions as a team, establish agreed common standards for our practice, build our confidence and quality in our practice and assert our professionalism. I ran a similar exercise during a regional event for ALDinHE in January, which participants also found thought-provoking. We started off looking at the values formally espoused by more established professions, before thinking about what might work for Learning Development in our own institutional context. Some of the values for the Newcastle Learning Development service arose from our particular circumstances; others are, I hope, relevant to the Learning Development community more widely, and some may be recognisable to colleagues in the more established professions from which Learning Development has grown, including subject teaching in higher education.

In Newcastle, we’ve used our values document in various ways. On an individual level, we use it to examine our own practice and look at the impact of even the smallest interaction on student learning. Opening a one-to-one with a throwaway phrase like ‘so how can I help you?’ or a workshop with ‘now, what I want you all to do is…’ can, for example, subtly but negatively affect the whole dynamic of a session. On the other hand, a reframing along lines more in keeping with our values of empowerment, respect and student-centredness can really turn a session around. On a larger scale, they’ve helped formulate our whole approach to workshop design with co-created learning outcomes from which we learn as much as our student partners, redesign the spaces in which we see students for one to one appointments and find a more nuanced approach to digital resource development than just ‘putting content online’. I believe that working to embody these values in our practice is making a tangible if implicit difference to the quality of our provision which is evident to students and academic colleagues. The next step for us is to start communicating this more explicitly in the way we present ourselves as professionals, in our publicity and service statements with colleagues and students and build it more formally into evaluation and quality assurance.

We’ve certainly found reflecting on and articulating our values a very useful activity at Newcastle on many levels, and having shared them more widely beyond our team and institution, the process has been received with much interest from other Learning Developers. Whether you feel this thinking about values ‘chimes’ with your practice or not, I hope you find the values we shared to the LDHEN list a thought-provoking aid in reflecting on your own practice, individually and when working with others! I’d love to hear any responses.

Helen Webster is Head of the Writing Development Centre at Newcastle University. She is a learning developer who has worked over the last decade at UEA, Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin Universities, before returning to work at Newcastle, where she did her first degree in German. She’s a former medievalist who did a PhD on learning and the laity in the fourteenth century and taught Medieval Studies at Oxford, Cambridge and UCL, realising she preferred working with living rather than long-dead students. She has a PGCE in Further and Higher Education, and is a Senior Fellow of the HEA. She is currently developing CPD resources for the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education. Helen tweets at: @scholastic_rat