100 Ideas for Active Learning

100 Ideas for Active Learning

Active Learning Network

University of Sussex Library

Falmer, Brighton, UK





Tab Betts and Dr. Paolo Oprandi

Lead publisher liaison:

Dr. Catrina Hey

Subeditors and proofreaders:

Dr. Vicki Dale, Dr. Shelini Surenden, Nayiri Keshishi, Nicoletta Di Ciolla, Dr. Christina Magkoufopoulou and Richard Beggs.

Publishing Committee:

Dr. Shelini Surenden, Ikedinachi Ogamba and Dr. Paolo Oprandi

Editorial Committee:

Dr Victoria Grace Walden,
Richard Beggs,
Wendy Johnston,
Nayiri Keshishi,
Dr Eileen O’leary,
Dr Sophie Rutschmann,
Dr Peter Finn,
Amanda Millmore,
Anuradha Peramunugamage,
Dr Samuel Saunders,
Dr Isobel Gowers,
Dr Lucy Spowart,
Dr Alison Harvey,
Nina Walker,
Dale Munday,
Dr Rachel John Robinson,
Tab Betts,
Dr Vicki Dale,
Florent Zwiers,
Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou,
Dr Andrew Middleton,
Dr Melanie Stockton-Brown,
Dr George Kyparissiadis,
Dr Anastasia Logotheti,
Patricia Perlman-Dee,
Kasia Mika,
Dr Paolo Oprandi,
Ikedinachi Ogamba,
Dr Marta Vianya-Estopa,
Dr Alice Cherestes,
Jamie Heywood,
Matt Parkman,
Dr. Olga Kozar,
Dr Wendy Ashall,
Nicoletta Di Ciolla,
Dr Artemis Alexiou,
Dr Katharine Jewitt,
Dr Shelini Surendran,
Dr Eugenia Tzoumaka,
Thomas Broderick

(Total: 40)

Peer reviewers who went above and beyond:

Dr Paolo Oprandi,
Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou,
Richard Beggs,
Dr Alice Cherestes,
Dr George Kyparissiadis,
Dr Anastasia Logotheti,
Dr Vicki Dale,
Dr Isobel Gowers,
Dr Jessica Clare Hancock,
Florent Zwiers
Dr Alison G. Harvey,
Nayiri Keshishi,
Dr Chrissi Nerantzi,
Anuradha Peramunugamage,
Dr Lucy Spowart,
Dr Victoria Grace Walden,
Dr Rachel John Robinson,
Kasia Mika

(Total: 18)

Peer reviewers:

Dr Artemis Alexiou,
Richard Beggs,
Dr Éric Bel,
Tab Betts,
Vicky Breckin,
Thomas Broderick,
Dr Alice Cherestes,
Antony Coombs
Dr Sandy Cope,
Neil Cowie,
Dr Rod Cullen,
Dr Vicki Dale,
Dr Derek Dodd,
Roisin Donnelly,
Matt East
Amy Edwards-Smith,,
Shaun Ferns,
Dr Mark Field,
Dr Peter Finn,
Dr Bianca Fox,
Dr Wendy Garnham,
Dr Isobel Gowers,
Dr Suzanne Groothuijsen,
Sarah Hack,
Dr Jessica Clare Hancock,
Dr Alison G. Harvey,
Dr Jen Harvey,
Dr Sam Hemsley,
Jamie Heywood,
Robert Hickey,
Dr Janet Horrocks,
Wendy Johnston,
Anna Maria Jones,
Efi Karaouza,
Nayiri Keshishi,
Dr Jill Kirby,
Dr George Kyparissiadis,
Antigone Kyrousi,
Professor Karen Heard Laureote,
Dr Chris Little,
Dr Anastasia Logotheti,
Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou,
Orlagh McCabe,
Aimee Merrydew,
Dr Andrew Middleton,
Kasia Mika,
Dr Georgia-Zozeta Miliopoulou,
Amanda Millmore,
Dr Stylianos Mystakidis,
Dr Chrissi Nerantzi,
Dr Ana Niño,
Dr Eileen O’Leary,
Professor Jim O’Mahoney,
Paolo Oprandi,
Alison Ormesher,
Oluwaseun Osituyo,
Larna Pantry-Mayer,
Matt Parkman,
Marcus Pedersen,
Anuradha Peramunugamage,
Patricia Perlman-Dee,
Dr Katie Piatt,
Sue Pinnick,
Jenny Roberts,
Dr Rachel John Robinson,
Dr Sophie Rutschmann,
Dr Youcef Sai,
Zeenar Salim
Dr Samuel Saunders,
Dr Leslie Schneider,
Professor Anke Schwittay,
Dr Lucy Spowart,
Margarita Steinberg,
Dr Dynatra Subasinghe,
Linda Sullivan,
Dr Nathalie Tasler,
Adam Tate,
Johanna Tomczak,
Dr Malgorzata Trela,
Kelly Trivedy,
Dr Eugenia Tzoumaka,
Dr Victoria Grace Walden,
Nina Walker
Florent Zwiers

(Total: 84)


Dr Artemis Alexiou,
Alison Bailey,
Richard Beggs,
Dr Éric Bel,
Tab Betts,
Vicky Breckin,
Thomas Broderick,
Dr Paula Cardoso,
Dr Gerasimos Chatzidamianos,
Dr Alice Cherestes,
Dr Sandy Cope,
Neil Cowie,
Dr Victoria Wilson-Crane,
Dr Rod Cullen,
Dr Vicki Dale,
Nicoletta Di Ciolla,
Dr Derek Dodd,
Matt East,
Amy Edwards-Smith,
Scott Farrow,
Shaun Ferns,
Dr Peter Finn,
Dr Mark Field,
Dr Bianca Fox,
Dr Wendy Garnham,
Dr Isobel Gowers,
Dr Suzanne Groothuijsen,
Sarah Hack,
Dr Jessica Clare Hancock,
Dr Alison G. Harvey,
Dr Jen Harvey,
Professor Karen Heard-Lauréote,
Jamie Heywood,
Robert Hickey,
Dr Janet Horrocks,
Dr Lola Sánchez-Jáuregui,
Dr Katharine Jewitt,
Wendy Johnston,
Rebekka Jolley,
Nayiri Keshishi,
Dr Jill Kirby,
Dr Olga Kozar,
Dr George Kyparissiadis,
Antigone Kyrousi,
Dr Chris Little,
Dr Anastasia Logotheti,
Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou,
Linda Matthews,
Dr Conor Mellon,
Aimee Merrydew,
Dr Andrew Middleton,
Dr Georgia-Zozeta Miliopoulou,
Amanda Millmore,
James Moran,
Panagiotis Mourtzis,
Dale Munday,
Dr Stylianos Mystakidis,
Dr Chrissi Nerantzi,
Dr Ana Niño,
Dr Eileen O’Leary,
Professor Jim O’Mahony,
Ikedinachi Ogamba,
Dr Paolo Oprandi,
Orlagh McCabe,
Oluwaseun Osituyo,
Linda O’Sullivan,
Larna Pantrey-Mayer,
Ellis Parkman,
Matt Parkman,
Marcus Pedersen,
Anuradha Peramunugamage,
Dr Joy Perkins,
Patricia Perlman-Dee,
Sue Pinnick,
Dr Sarah L. Rawe,
Sarah Rhodes,
Dr Jo Richardson,
Jenny Roberts,
Dr Rachel John Robinson,
Dr Roisin Donnelly,
Dr Sophie Rutschmann,
Dr Youcef Sai,
Zeenar Salim,
Dr Lola Sánchez-Jáuregui,
Dr Samuel Saunders,
Dr Leslie Schneider,
Professor Anke Schwittay,
Dr Lorraine Smith,
Dr Lucy Spowart,
Margarita Steinberg,
Paul Stevens,
Fiona Stirling,
Dr Melanie Stockton-Brown,
Geyan Sasha Surendran,
Dr Shelini Surendran,
Dr Nathalie Tasler,
Adam Tate,
Dr Heather Taylor,
Johanna Tomczak,
Dr Malgorzata Trela,
Effrosyni Tseregkouni,
Kelly Trivedy,
Dr Eugenia Tzoumaka,
Antoine van den Beemt,
Santanu Vasant,
Dr Marta Vianya-Estopa,
Dr Victoria Grace Walden,
Nina Walker,
Zhuo Li
(Total: 109)



Ah… this book! There are so many people to thank for this book.

First, we would like to thank you, the readers, for picking up this book and reading it (don’t stop at the acknowledgements please), second, all those authors who have contributed a chapter and, third, all those who helped peer review each others’ chapter! Thanks so much for making this book so awesome.

And now for those that went the extra mile!

Thanks to those who were on the editorial committee, including, and in no particular order, Victoria Walden, Richard Beggs, Wendy Johnston, Nayiri Keshishi, Eileen O’leary, Sophie Rutschmann, Peter Finn, Amanda Millmore, Anuradha Peramunugamage, Samuel Saunders, Isobel Gowers, Lucy Spowart, Alison Harvey, Nina Walker, Dale Munday, Rachel Robinson, Vicki Dale, Florent Zwiers, Christina Magkoufopoulou, Andrew Middleton, Melanie Stockton-Brown, George Kyparissiadis, Anastasia Logotheti, Patricia Perman-Dee, Kasia Mika, Paolo Oprandi, Ikedinachi Ogamba, Marta Vianya-Estopa, Alice Cherestes, Jamie Heywood, Matt Parkman, Olga Kozar, Wendy Ashall, Nicoletta Di Ciolla, Artemis Alexiou, Katharine Jewitt, Shelini Surendran, Eugenia Tzoumaka and Thomas Broderick.

Thanks to those on the publishing committee, which included Shelini Surenden, Ikedinachi Ogamba and Paolo Oprandi.

Thanks also to the super reliable Shelini Surenden and Nariyi Keshishi who proofread each individual chapter, to the energetic Nicoletta di Ciolla who proofread the section introductions, to the diligent Richard Beggs who did incredible work on checking the images, to the fantastic Christina Magkoufopoulou who was a peer reviewer par excellence and to the super-amazing Vicki Dale for going above and beyond with chasing up unfinished chapters, proofreading the references and picture editing.

Thanks to the incredible and super patient Catrina Hey from Sussex Open Press who helped us publish the book on the PressBooks platform and to the University of Sussex for paying for the hidden costs such as DOI registrations.

And finally thanks to Tab Betts and Paolo Oprandi who took on lead editorial roles and coordinated the book from the side of the Active Learning Network.

What an amazing team effort. Please enjoy the book!




Isobel Gowers; Dr Paolo Oprandi; and Tab Betts

What is this book?

This is a practical handbook which intends to inspire innovative teaching and provide support for readers seeking to apply active learning tools and strategies in a variety of teaching and learning contexts. Although many of the contributing authors work in higher education, this is not intended to be a traditional academic publication, but more of a practical reference book which could be used to inform the design of adult learning in any context (e.g. higher education, further education, work-based learning and development, etc), but also in other phases of education (e.g. secondary, primary, etc).

Aim of the book

The aim of this book is to provide a resource for making active learning approaches to teaching, learning and assessment more prevalent in higher education. The chapters of this book emphasise the importance of active learning activities for creating deep and meaningful learning. This stems from the notion that effective learning happens in situated contexts, which combine physical, mental, emotional and social processes. The learning activities we expect our students to engage in should consider all those domains and use them to deepen learning further.

The chapters in this book express a passion for education and its potential to improve the lives of those involved in it. The ideas build from the premise that education can empower learners, allow them to reach their potential despite their personal circumstances and can be “linked up with projects such as democracy, solidarity, inclusion, tolerance, social justice and peace” (Biesta & Säfström, 2011, p. 540). But the book also recognises that current models of education need to make radical changes to deliver this, starting with developing a curriculum that supports active approaches to learning. The chapters in this volume provide a plethora of ideas for educators wanting to take active learning approaches in their own teaching and learning practice.

This book represents the perspectives of many people from across the global learning community. In the following chapters, we share our experience of applying active learning to practical situations and offer ideas to educators to adapt these for their own contexts, whether they are teachers, lecturers, academic developers, learning technologists or education managers. We would like to see the ideas discussed, evaluated and applied throughout diverse international institutions and across disciplines. The intention of this publication is to make the ideas and approaches to active learning as easy as possible for educators to apply within their own contexts and in their own practices.

How to use the book

This book is intended to be a choose-your-own-adventure. It functions as a reference resource, so there is no need to read it cover to cover, but feel free to go from start to finish if you prefer; the choice is yours. The intention is that you can dip in and out of the chapters to find an idea to meet your needs. For that reason, a structure of themes was developed to help you find chapters relevant to your specific requirements. However, as with so much of active learning, the ideas in this book do not fit neatly into sections or headings and often overlap or span a number of themes, so you might want to take a look at a few different sections of the book when looking for ideas. One of the strengths of the book is that each idea is short and succinct, so they are quick and easy to read. Each chapter aims to provide inspiration for how the idea can be adapted for different contexts, but these are only suggestions and most of the ideas could be a spark or a starting point to generate new ideas for active learning in your own context.

It is also worth noting that this is a practical handbook, rather than a strictly academic publication. Authors have tried to provide relevant research to support their idea, but the ideas themselves may not have been subjected to rigorous testing or longitudinal studies of effectiveness. They are meant as tools to add to your teaching and learning tool box.

What is active learning?

When describing active learning we tend to refer back to Chickering and Gamson (1987). Putting it succinctly, they claim,

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves. (p. 3)

So how do we do it? Good practice active learning strategies aim to engage students in a series of activities which require them to produce observable evidence of their learning. Where possible, these individual, pair and group tasks aim to develop higher order thinking skills, emotional connection with content and tactile or physical engagement with the environment. Importantly, active learning is not a singular event. At its very least it requires the provision of a framework for understanding something, a problem task in which they could use that framework and an opportunity for reflection on the process. In this way the tasks become memorable and meaningful experiences through which students can relate the knowledge to and have a personal connection with them.

So does it work? Assessing the efficacy of different teaching strategies is challenging, therefore much of the evidence for the effectiveness of active learning is theoretical or anecdotal. However, although with some limitations, there is a growing evidence base for the effectiveness of active learning (Deslauriers et al., 2019; Freeman et al., 2014) and in particular how active learning can narrow the attainment gap for underrepresented groups (Ballen et al., 2017; Theobald et al., 2020). These studies often use assessment outcomes as their quantifier but success of active learning goes beyond content material. Indeed when you dig deeper and look at specific types of active learning, for instance if you look at team based learning, improvements in the development of communication skills, interprofessional learning and self-directed learning have been documented (Alberti et al., 2021) as just one example of skills development. Some of these skills are not directly assessed on courses but provide important graduate competencies for future employment. You will find many of the ideas within this book are recommended because they enhance a range of skills and not just subject specific knowledge.

What is the Active Learning Network?

The Active Learning Network is a global community for revolutionising learning. The network is a collaborative, community-led initiative for academics, educational developers, learning technologists and students, with satellite groups at universities around the world. It is a community that aims to provide a collaborative platform to share ideas, produce openly available resources, showcase active learning projects, pedagogic scholarship/research and international discussions around active learning.

The network’s approach is distinctive because it aims to challenge and disrupt existing paradigms in HE and operates in the spirit of sharing and open education. This provides an antidote to top-down, siloed approaches prevalent in HE and means that those involved in learning and teaching can benefit from reciprocal sharing of practice, rather than having to constantly reinvent the wheel and fight isolated struggles for change in their own institutions.

Since 2017, the network has grown from a small group at one university, to a large-scale network with 363 members, 30 satellite groups (including groups from the UK, Greece, Germany, Ireland, Romania, India, China, and Cambodia), a website with engagement from over 100 countries, 5 annual conferences with a combined 920 attendees, sponsorship from companies such as Sony, Sage, Talis and InteDashboard, the world’s first Global Festival of Active Learning, with 1852 sign-ups, 20 online masterclasses with a combined 1053 attendees, multiple award-winning projects, such as The Padlet Project, which was published as an HEA Case Study (Garnham, Betts & Hole, 2018) and in the Compass Journal of Learning and Teaching (Garnham & Betts, 2018), three collaboratively-produced open access books, including this volume, Disrupting Traditional Pedagogy: Active Learning in Practice (Active Learning Network, 2019) and Innovations in Active Learning in Higher Education (Active Learning Network, 2020).

This sharing of scholarship and innovative learning practices has a huge impact, because all staff and students create bilateral communication channels between the wider network and their local networks where they pass the learning forward.

Where did the idea from the book come from?

This book started, like many great books throughout history, in a festival moshpit.

In 2021, when the global pandemic had forced the cancellation of all face-to-face events, the Active Learning Network (ALN) wanted to bring a bit of joy and connection into what were very difficult times. Many people had had their holidays, parties, festivals and other celebrations cancelled, as well as facing an array of other challenges. In response to this, we wanted to provide an opportunity for the teaching and learning community to have fun and celebrate what makes inclusive, participatory, collaborative learning so great, whilst also demonstrating creative solutions for developing active learning practice.

To this end, we decided to create the world’s first Online Global Festival of Active Learning. Rather than a traditional conference, we modelled the event on famous music festivals, such as Glastonbury Festival, with tents (instead of online meetings), fun collaborative activities (instead of conference presentations) and asynchronous crowdsourced resources (instead of the festival moshpit). The book was one of the resources which was created from these metaphorical ‘moshpit’ activities.

For something that turned out to be a very large-scale collaboration, the book started in a surprisingly spontaneous way. We set up a Google Document and invited people to share an idea for active learning in 100 words or less, which would later be developed into a chapter. Initially, it was just meant as a light-hearted opportunity to share practice. We thought that we might get 20-30 ideas, which would be a useful resource to share with colleagues. Much to our surprise, we ended up with over 100 chapters of 500-1000 words each and one of the most ambitious collaborative publishing projects that any of us had ever attempted.

Structure of the book

The book is divided into six main themes: Theory and Curriculum Design; Inclusive Communities; Transferable Skills; Assessment and Feedback; Teaching Strategies; and Digitally Enhanced Learning.

The first theme, Theory and Curriculum Design, challenges us to radically redesign our curriculum to embed active learning deep within our disciplines and within our institutions. It includes overarching institutional, programme-based and modular strategies for active learning. Within the theme there are ideas about how you should approach active learning strategies and how it can, and has, been adopted at a large scale.

The second theme, Inclusive Communities, recognises the importance of active learning to ensure inclusivity in teaching and assessment. The theme explores ideas around developing inclusive practice, building communities, empowering learners, promoting wellbeing and developing peer learning. None of these ideas are mutually exclusive. Building a sense of community and trust in one’s peers will enable students to learn from each other and feel supported both within and outside class.

The third theme, Transferable Skills, recognises the many elements of active learning that are transferable. Active learning often includes tasks that require the students to practise skills which we use outside of the educational setting and hence they are transferable to other contexts. Past experience tells us many students that graduate this year will end up doing a job that does not currently exist during their working lives. Even jobs that do exist now will look radically different in thirty years time. Therefore developing transferable skills can be more useful to students than the educational-based skills they are learning.

The fourth theme is Assessment and Feedback. For many teaching staff, there is deep frustration that students are strategic in their approach to assessment. Their focus is getting the best grade and they rarely consider the learning that is coming from assessment. Active learning provides an opportunity to change this narrative through the use of active assessments that align our learning objectives for the students with their strategic endeavours to get better grades. This theme includes ideas to aid the introduction of active learning assessments.

The fifth theme is Teaching Strategies. Active learning is effective because it requires students to engage in thought processes, think about concepts in different contexts and be metacognitive with their own learning progress. If the right teaching strategies are used, active learning does not just introduce content knowledge but a wide range of skills preparing students to be resilient and persistent in their future careers. A wide range of active learning teaching strategy ideas are put forward here before focusing on playful learning strategies and co-creation.

The sixth and final theme is Digitally Enhanced Learning. Much of what we create and do is digital and many of our outputs manifest themselves in the digital rather than physical world. The chapters in this section introduce active learning tasks that specifically use digital technologies as an active environment for the collaborative production of knowledge.

Dive in and start playing with the ideas

We hope that you have fun playing with the ideas in this book and find the process of engaging with it as useful as we have found the process of creating it. Feel free to dive in at any point which takes your interest or randomly select a chapter to begin your adventure. If any aspect of this book inspires new ideas or serves as a catalyst for positive changes to your practice, or if you would like to get involved in the network or set up and lead your own local satellite group, please get in touch by sending us an email to activelearningnetwork@gmail.com, contacting @ActiveLearnNTW with the hashtag #activelearningnetwork on Twitter, or by visiting our website at www.activelearningnetwork.com.


Active Learning Network. (2019). Disrupting traditional pedagogy: Active learning in practice. University of Sussex Library. https://doi.org/10.20919/9780995786240

Active Learning Network. (2020). Innovations in active learning in higher education. University of Sussex Library. https://doi.org/10.20919/9781912319961

Alberti, S., Motta, P., Ferri, P., & Bonetti, L. (2021). The effectiveness of team-based learning in nursing education: A systematic review. Nurse Education Today, 97, 104721. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2020.104721

Ballen, C. J., Wieman, C., Salehi, S., Searle, J. B., & Zamudio, K. R. (2017). Enhancing diversity in undergraduate science: Self-efficacy drives performance gains with active learning. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(4), ar56. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.16-12-0344

Biesta, G., & Säfström, C. A. (2011). A manifesto for education. Policy futures in education, 9(5), 540-547. https://doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2011.9.5.540

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3, 7.

Deslauriers, L. McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K. & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821936116

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Garnham, W. A., & Betts, T. (2018). The Padlet Project: Transforming student engagement in Foundation Year seminars. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.21100/compass.v11i2.714

Garnham, W. A., Betts, T., & Hole, A. (2018). The Padlet project: fostering creativity, engagement and digital literacy in seminar teaching. In L. Arnold and L. Norton (Eds.), HEA Action-Research: Sector Case Studies (2018) (pp. 59-64). http://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/5686/1/Action%20Research%20-%20Case%20studies_1%20Arnold%20and%20Norton%20%28Eds%29%202018.pdf

Theobald, E. J., Hill, M. J., Tran, E., Agrawal, S., Arroyo, E. N., Behling, S., Chambwe, N., Cintrón, D. L., Cooper, J. D., Dunster, G., Grummer, J. A., Hennessey, K., Hsiao, J., Iranon, N., Jones, L., Jordt, H., Keller, M., Lacey, M. E., Littlefield, C. E., … Freeman, S. (2020). Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(12), 6476-6483. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1916903117

About the Authors

Throughout Dr Isobel Gowers’ teaching career, she has been interested in active learning. Initially using techniques such as problem based learning in her teaching but gradually increasing her repertoire of active learning methods. After 10 years as a lecturer Isobel shifted to educational management and currently works to promote active learning at ARU.

Dr Paolo Oprandi is a Doctor in Education with an academic background which at different times has spanned the sciences, humanities and social sciences. He has worked in the area of learning technologies for 20 years and is currently a Senior Learning Technologist in the Technology Enhanced Learning team at the University of Sussex. His research has focussed on curriculum development that welcomes diversity into the academic disciplines, using the appropriate teaching, learning and assessment technologies.

Tab Betts is a Lecturer in Higher Education Pedagogy at the University of Sussex. He is co-founder and institutional co-lead for the Active Learning Network (ALN). For many years, he has been promoting evidence-based approaches to active learning in higher education and the use of learning technologies to create inclusive blended learning environments and facilitate large-scale collaboration. He has won a number of awards, including  six awards for Outstanding or Innovative Teaching and a 2021 Global Academic Development Good Practice Award with the ALN.


Active Learning Manifesto

Dr Andrew Middleton

Universities as sites of agency


Academic agency: Inspired Academics


Student agency: Students Become!


Global agency: We believe learning comes from the heart


The Active Learning Manifesto comes from contributions made by over 300 participants at the 4th Active Learning Conference on 21st July 2021. Anglia Ruskin University hosted the online conference in association with the Active Learning Network. Themed around All together – Active Inclusive Learning, delegates had worked together during the day across a programme composed of 29 workshops and papers.

A selection of statements directly quoted from the original activity



  • Risk taking is essential for progress – support your staff in taking risks; if they fear blame, they will not innovate
  • Remember our purpose – providing a GOOD educational experience for our students
  • Trust your academics to innovate
  • welcome space for innovation
  • Don’t just do what everyone else is doing. That’s boring
  • Do not be afraid to re-invent assessment. Authentic assessment need not be difficult to mark
  • Look ahead to the needs of the future
  • Give your staff more time to explore more innovative teaching and learning approaches
  • Knowledge on how we learn is constantly changing so we need to constantly change how we teach
  • Make it fun for you too
  • Learn from your students as much as they hope to learn from you
  • Find time to laugh
  • Be brave
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it’s something small
  • Active learning is not about lowering standards
  • listen to [student] voices
  • We need to treat staff and students as people – not just receptacles / delivery mechanisms for knowledge
  • Be brave and enable a community that allows for recovery from failure
  • Normalise failure and see it as a learning experience.
  • Active Learning Strategies are highly resilient, they are effective in face to face and virtual environments


The World!

  • The world is changing and traditional education does not work anymore. Are you ready to be part of the change? Are you ready to be creative, explore your passions and make the best of your educational experience?
  • Learning is a two way partnership which we want you to be part of!
  • We are what we do! Let us all learn by doing!
  • Learning isn’t about being told things, it’s about generating our own knowledge
  • Active learning will help you prepare for the future – these authentic learning tasks will give you the skills and mindset you need to make a positive contribution to the workplace (and the world?).
  • Collaborate and network
  • Remember to look at feedback/forward, and don’t just focus on the mark
  • There is no better way to learn than getting active and applying your learning!
  • Be curious; be bold; be confident – explore
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions…

Good teaching is good teaching whether online or face to face and usually involves active learning!

Educating WORLD CHANGERS anywhere, anytime!

There is more to learning than lectures!

Online learning is still learning!

Universities (and other learning institutions) are open for business!

Tell (the) governments that good education makes good futures – stop cutting the investments


The act of creating the Active Learning Manifesto brought members of the emerging global community of higher education academics and developers together through a 45-minute plenary co-writing challenge at the end of the conference day.

Following a brief introduction in which the concept of manifesto was introduced (Danchev, 2011), the author posed four questions:

  1. Institutional change – what do we need to tell our managers
  2. Academic innovation – what do we need to tell our academics?
  3. Learning environment – what do we need to tell our students?
  4. Global connections and scholarship of active learning – what do we need to tell the world?

Participants were asked to be bold and to create exclamatory responses to each of the four questions presented in a shared Google Doc. Participants created a single statement to each question and were asked to highlight responses which they felt to be particularly strong. The document remained accessible and live after the event to ensure participants could review and use the responses to inform their own practices immediately. Attribution to the participant contributors is included in the online document (https://bit.ly/3J79tjn).

The author promised to analyse the activity and present the co-created manifesto in a coherent form following the conference.

Thematic Analysis

The manifesto has been produced using thematic analysis; a method for analysing qualitative data and which entails the search across a dataset to identify and report on repeated patterns. (Braun & Clarke, 2006)

Kiger & Vapio (2020) provide guidance on using thematic analysis and explain that it is an appropriate way to analyse thoughts expressed in content across a dataset. This results in the active construction of meaningful patterns from responses to a research question. Themes can be generated inductively or deductively. In constructing the manifesto, aided by the brevity and initial structure of the dataset, the author has followed Kiger and Vapio’s recommended six steps of: becoming familiar with the data, generating initial codes, searching for themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and producing the report.

The manifesto form is intentionally used as an inherently biased “call to arms in the service of the revolution” (Danchev, 2011, p. 11) and its “paradigmatic orientations and assumptions” (Kiger & Vapio, 2020, p. 1) naturally affect the interpretations, their presentation, and their trustworthiness. Its purpose, ultimately, is to attract attention and engage. Its very form, therefore, reflects the spirit of active learning.

In conclusion: Using the Active Learning Manifesto

The original provocation was to find out what we, as academics and developers committed to active learning, wanted to tell four key stakeholder groups. A fifth stakeholder group, the contributors to the manifesto, may be its primary beneficiaries: we learnt through its construction, we learnt about construction, and we have a socially moderated instrument for engaging other stakeholders.

It is hoped that the manifesto is useful to any stakeholder group as a basis for discussing teaching, learning, curriculum design, and the relationship of active learning to partners and publics in the world beyond education. The manifesto will be successful if it provides you with a starting point to stimulate discussion: Do you agree with it? What is missing? What should be removed? How could it be improved? How else could its ideas be presented?

The first section considers the university as a site of agency. Here, ‘university’ may be understood as higher education in general, university leaders and managers in general, or your own university specifically, depending on your context.

In the second section, the notion of the ‘inspired academic’ suggests the ideas could be considered in PG Certs for Higher Education and staff development activities. It could be used by programme or course teams as the basis for developing a shared teaching and learning philosophy or at the outset of a curriculum review, for example.

Student Agency, the third section, is particularly exciting because it gives course and programme leaders a set of points to use with their students coming onto the course. In reading about active learning, it is common to see practitioners write about the need to challenge and develop their students’ expectations and create a common shared appreciation of the active learner-centred paradigm. It is hoped that these points frame useful induction activities and welcome packages.

Global Agency, the fourth section, helps to communicate to non-educators what happens in the contemporary university classroom and why developing capable, curious, creative and critical learners through immersion in authentic learning activities is in the interest of all of us.

The manifesto is playful! Each line of the respective calls is a mnemonic:


I would like to thank all contributors, our colleagues, students and scholars, for inspiring us to develop the manifesto and providing the data from which it is derived.

I would particularly like to thank members of the Active Learning Network, which in recent years has become an inspiring and supportive force, modelling the principles of active learning in all that we do.

Andrew Middleton, for the Active Learning Network, March 2022


Active Learning Conference 2021 participants. (2022). Manifesto for active learning. Active Learning Network. https://bit.ly/3J79tjn

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2): 77–10. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa.

Danchev, A. (Ed.). (2011). 100 artists’ manifestos: From the futurists to the stuckists. Penguin UK.

Kiger, M.E., & Varpio, L. (2020). Thematic analysis of qualitative data: AMEE Guide No. 131. Medical Teacher, 42(8), 846-854. https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159X.2020.1755030

About the Author

Andrew Middleton is a National Teaching Fellow committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.


1 Theory and Curriculum Design

Adonis blue butterfly on a leaf
Adonis blue butterfly

“Since there is no single set of abilities running throughout human nature, there is no single curriculum which all should undergo. Rather, schools should teach everything that anyone is interested in learning”

~ John Dewey





Image Attribution

Adonis Blue butterfly, by Paolo Oprandi, is used under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Introduction to Theory and Curriculum Design

Dr Paolo Oprandi; Ikedinachi Ogamba; and Dr Andrew Middleton

Within this theme, we discuss the radical redesign of teaching and learning for active learning.

Active learning should not be an add-on to a curriculum: for it to work well and not to be resisted by colleagues and students, it should be embedded deep into the curriculum design.  Additionally, active learning is about providing opportunities to practise the application of knowledge (Pratt-Adams et al., 2020). In an active learning, curriculum knowledge is constructed, applied and evaluated through activity, which might include physical, mental and emotional acts of learning (Taylor et al., 2019). While the core aims tutors have for their students’ learning does not need to change, it is likely that the aims will need to reflect the active learning tasks and some changes in emphasis will need to be made. Furthermore, learning activities and assessment are interwoven and aligned. If students have engaged in actively applying knowledge to their contexts then assessments need to reflect this new activity (Ruge et al., 2019).

Under this theme heading, we consider the institutional approaches to applying active learning across the campus in terms of decentralising knowledge production, welcoming the students’ contributions to the discipline they are studying and changing the educational processes and physical spaces. We then move on to consider designing the curriculum for active learning at a modular level. Finally, we consider the particular challenges to curriculum design that the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown presented and the active learning solutions that tutors came up with.

Institutional Approaches

In universities across the UK there are an increasing number of institutional projects supporting active learning curricula (Pratt-Adams et al., 2020). Where approaches to teaching and assessment are introduced across the organisation the ease with which tutors can apply it to their teaching and the potential impact on student learning is much greater. The reason for this is manyfold. Physical spaces, such as classrooms, and organisational regulations, such as assessment processes and timetabling, can be designed for active learning, and cultural barriers posed by traditional teaching and assessment can be lowered. For example, expectations from colleagues, moderators and external examiners can be aligned to active learning curricula and the expectations students have for active engagement can be embedded on transition from school to HE.

In Radically collaborative learning environments Betts talks of radical changes to education that active learning curricula might involve. The importance of creating curricula using student-centred pedagogy is well understood, but Betts’ vision is more radical. He talks of the need to decentralise education in terms of design, content, delivery, questioning and the construction of knowledge. His ideas include sharing responsibility for teaching and learning between student and teacher, and the co-creation of learning artefacts. He introduces terms such as re-constructive alignment and backward design (Emory, 2014), which includes ideas of aligning learning outcomes and teaching with student involvement and input, one or more times through the term.

Beggschapter illustrates the process that took place at Ulster University leading to the transition to a campus that supports active learning – including many of the change management strategies that this transition required. Replicating the need for teaching and learning to be inclusive, the move to an active learning campus incorporated inclusive design as a fundamental to the project, building a community of practice with staff and students and a shared understanding of the project. Importantly the transition required a redesign of physical spaces and classrooms.

Going forward, if we want to change education for the better, the importance of thinking about active learning at an institutional level is paramount. In terms of student learning, the success of an active learning curriculum is much greater when it is supported at an institutional level. Betts introduces some radical redesign ideas, while Beggs suggests some practical steps to achieving this.

Active Learning Curricula

Chickering and Gamson (1987) establish a well-cited set of principles for undergraduate teaching, however, frameworks have been used subsequently to explain how to create engaging teaching. The  chapters in this section set out practical frameworks for use in either design workshops or for independent use. Design frameworks allow the active learning community to answer an essential challenging question for the promotion of active curricula: how can teachers transition their practice to the active learning paradigm to enhance or transform the ways they engage with their students? (Nicol & Draper, 2009)

Whether the academic is designing afresh or transitioning to active practice, Bel and Tomczak offer six facets which create a form of constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011) and enable the designer to build upon a learner’s intrinsic motivations towards their development as constructors of knowledge. The tool encourages the academic to incorporate exploratory pedagogies that encourage learning by making safe mistakes, thereby recognising the importance of risk-taking in the active philosophy.

Curriculum design involves an interplay of designing both holistically and at the detailed level. It requires a thorough understanding of the rationale behind taking an active approach and for making sound decisions about which methods should be used. The Be ACTIVE Framework formulated by Broderick, O’Leary et al. helps us to develop that understanding while providing a guided and supported approach, along with a useful accompanying infographic and linked video tutorials. The framework is intended to help all those who teach or who develop policy to make the commitment to active learning. The framework is equally theoretical, structured, and exploratory, and prompts thinking about how to design the situation holistically as much as it is about developing specific techniques.

Fox et al.’s focus is on Engaging and Empowering the Early Career Academic as active learning curriculum designers. Their aim has been to develop flexible approaches to curriculum design and delivery that focus on skills development through work-integrated learning; approaches that are experiential and which involve peers in project-based activities and as problem solvers. The models explored in this chapter are less determined by the systematic transmission of knowledge framed to meet a given set of learning outcomes and more focused on accommodating an ecology of self-determined learning.

Oprandi focuses on Curriculum Design that Welcomes Students into the Discipline and how theoretical frameworks can be used to counter feelings of disciplinary alienation. He provides a framework to help us develop ‘welcoming’ designs that promote inclusion and learner agency. This focuses our attention on the experiential nature of disciplinary knowledge: where it has come from, how theories can be interrogated and applied, and how students ‘come to know’ and learn to contest the knowledge they find. With this in mind, and using examples from Linguistics and Chemistry, Oprandi advises that students can be engaged in topics by asking them to apply disciplinary theoretical framings in application tasks before involving students in a discussion about the validity of the theory.

Schwittay discusses the use of scenario building to engage students in active learning (Lyon, 2016). The unique nature of this approach, as presented in this chapter, is that it promotes critical analysis of various social, economic and ecological challenges, and on another hand facilitates the design of possible responses and solutions. This idea is useful for integrating education for sustainable development in curriculum design, teaching, and learning in the classroom. It will help in developing the learner who would be ready to problem-solve and tackle the global challenges of the modern world.

These chapters, and many others in this collection, reflect Barnett’s (2009) idea of an education in which the student exists in a state of ‘coming to know’ and learning agency.

Blended & Hybrid Curricula

Blended and hybrid curriculum design aims to meet the needs of various individual learners and group  through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities online and/or face-to-face. These approaches have become more popular within higher education following changes to teaching and learning and design and delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic (Plews et al.; 2021; Zeivots & Shalavin, 2021). These chapters provide inspirations, ideas and models to empower academics and students to adopt and engage in active learning in a blended and hybrid teaching and learning context.

Stirling introduces the “sandwich model” which suggests a three-stage cycle for delivery flipped learning as opposed to the traditional two-stage flipped classroom. The model involves the “sandwiching” of asynchronous self-directed student learning between two staff-directed synchronous sessions of lectures and group discussion. It proposes a core principle for enhancing active learning, which is applicable in designing teaching and learning sessions in various disciplines as “two points of synchronous engagement between which self-directed learning is sandwiched”.

Cullen and McCabe discuss the TREC model for designing, delivering and engaging students in active learning in “live” online classes. They presented a 4-stage active learning journey involving Trigger, Review, Expectations/Evidence and Consolidation (TREC) adopted and implemented in Manchester Metropolitan University for online teaching and learning. The model does not only enhance active learning but also it helps learners to develop academic skills to analyse, evaluate and synthesise information, communication, problem-solving and other transferable skills.

Finally, Middleton presents the Unified Active Learning (UAL) framework for hybrid curriculum design and evaluation that uses a set of design principles. They developed four different high-level models (blended bubbles; location neutral; hives and observers; and connected co-creators) with which these principles could be applied to create accessible connected classroom and engaging students actively wherever the location or learning environment might be. The design principles allows for creativity in the design of teaching while at the same time following the basic principles that would ensure that active learning takes place.


Barnett, R. (2009). Knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum. Studies in Higher Education, 34(4), 429-440. http://doi.org/10.1080/03075070902771978

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does (4th ed.). Open University Press.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3, 7.

Emory, J. (2014). Understanding backward design to strengthen curricular models. Nurse Educator, 39(3), 122-125. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNE.0000000000000034

Lyon, P. (2016). Design education: learning, teaching and researching through design. Routledge.

Nicol, D., & Draper, S. (2009). A blueprint for transformational organisational change: REAP as a case study. In: T. Mayes, D. Morrison, H. Mellar, P. Bullen & M. Oliver (Eds.) Transforming higher education through technology-enhanced learning. https://www.reap.ac.uk/reap/public/Papers/NIcol_Draper_transforming_assessment_feedback.pdf

Plews, R., Sweet, M., Sudbury, L., Malan, W., Waterbury, C., Savage, J., Provensal, E., Rose-Sinclair, K., & Chavez, M. (2021). From emergency remote teaching to hybrid NUflex: a collaborative approach to developing faculty into learning designers. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (22). https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.vi22.743

Pratt-Adams, S., Richter, U., & Warnes, M. (2020). Introduction. In S. Pratt Adams, U. Richter & M. Warnes (Eds.) Innovations in active learning in higher education. University of Sussex Press. https://doi.org/10.20919/9781912319961

Ruge, G., Tokede, O., & Tivendale, L. (2019). Implementing constructive alignment in higher education–cross-institutional perspectives from Australia. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 833-848. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1586842

Taylor H., Garnham W., & Ormerod, T. (2019). Active Essay Writing: Encouraging independent research through conversation In: W. Garnham, T. Betts, P. Oprandi, W. Ashall, J. Kirby, M. Steinberg, H. Taylor & V. Walden (Eds.) Disrupting traditional pedagogy: active learning in practice (pp. 58-78). University of Sussex Library. https://doi.org/10.20919/9780995786240

Zeivots, S., & Shalavin, C. (2021). Hybrid teaching workshops: upskilling educators to deliver hybrid classes. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (22). https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.vi22.673

About the Authors

Dr Paolo Oprandi is a Doctor in Education with an academic background which at different times has spanned the sciences, humanities and social sciences. He has worked in the area of learning technologies for 20 years and is currently a Senior Learning Technologist in the Technology Enhanced Learning team at the University of Sussex. His research has focussed on curriculum development that welcomes diversity into the academic disciplines, using the appropriate teaching, learning and assessment technologies.

Ike Ogamba has a broad experience of leading the design and delivery of learning and teaching in HE and leadership and management experience in global health and development practice. He is a Senior Fellow of the HEA, with Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) interests in design, innovation, digital education, e-learning, inclusive and authentic curriculum.

Andrew Middleton is a National Teaching Fellow committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.


1a Institutional Approaches


Radically collaborative learning environments

Tab Betts

What is the idea?

What would learning look like if we radically re-thought its structures and interpersonal dynamics? Education – and higher education in particular – has a long history of being hierarchical, elitist and didactic. What if we broke down these divisive hierarchies in an attempt to empower learners as true co-creators of the learning experience? This chapter will propose a number of strategies to facilitate radical collaboration in education.

Why this idea?

In general, power in education is very centralised. There is a fear among many teachers that if you let go of authority, then chaos will result. However, Renn’s (2020) articulation of Lithwick’s (2012) theory suggests that chaos can promote radical inclusion, allowing us “to queer things, to take seriously Indigenous and decolonial worldviews, to burn it all down and start from scratch” (Renn, 2020, p. 928). Moreover, research into active learning shows that students benefit from being active participants (Deslauriers et al., 2019) and learn more when they are able to have agency in the design of their learning (Bovill, 2020).

How could others implement this idea?

This chapter will suggest five methods for implementing radically collaborative environments: 1) decentralised design; 2) decentralised content; 3) decentralised delivery; 4) decentralised questioning; 5) decentralised construction of knowledge. These interventions should ideally be applied longer term across a module, as it will take time for staff and students to adapt to each strategy.

1) Re-constructive alignment (decentralised design)

The concept of re-constructive alignment attempts to combine the notion of constructive alignment (Biggs, 1996; Ruge et al., 2019), where all learning and assessment is aligned to learning outcomes, with the idea of taking the community as the curriculum (Cormier, 2008), so the community regularly re-evaluates and radically redesigns the content and curriculum. Benefits of this approach include that it: 1) encourages authentic, up-to-date learning content; 2) mitigates bias; and 3) ensures that the perspectives of all stakeholders are better represented. At regular intervals (e.g. yearly), the community could come together to revise the four main elements of constructive alignment: intended learning outcomes (ILOs), assessments, activities and content. These evaluations could take inspiration from Brookfield’s (1998, 2017) four critical lenses, where self-reflection, students, colleagues and the literature provide lenses through which to assess practice.

These opportunities could take a variety of forms, including:

  • Workshops – stakeholders collaborate on tasks for re-evaluating and re-designing the learning experience
  • Surveys – stakeholders anonymously provide feedback to inform the process
  • Pitch meetings – stakeholders pitch their ideas for changes to curriculum and decide on best options to take forward
  • Focus groups – stakeholders are brought together to share perspectives on improving the learning experience
  • Jamming sessions – stakeholders participate in open-ended idea generation and improvisation, in which ideas ‘riff’ and build upon each other

Given that constructive alignment proposes everything should be aligned to the intended learning outcomes (ILOs), it might be useful to follow a backward design sequence (see, for example, Emory, 2014), starting from re-evaluating ILOs (the goal), then assessments (how to gather evidence of achieving the goal), then activities (practise producing evidence of achieving the goal), then necessary content (knowledge needed in order to produce evidence). However, if implemented creatively, it may be possible to take a non-linear approach, letting members of the community decide which aspects they would like to focus on and then revise designs iteratively to ensure that each aspect still aligns.

2) Collaborative documents for course materials (decentralised content)

Another useful way to encourage co-construction of the learning experience is to set up collaborative documents (e.g. via OneDrive or Google Drive) for key course documents, such as reading lists, course handbooks, session plans, slides, handouts and quizzes, then get students to suggest changes or additions to the existing material. You may wish to co-create critical thinking prompts, such as ‘How could we represent a more diverse group of authors/cultural contexts?’. You could also invite learners to evaluate and contribute to other aspects of learning content, such as videos, podcasts, infographics, web pages and other multimedia.

3) Students become the teacher (decentralised delivery)

Peer teaching has numerous benefits for learning, particularly in relation to developing communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills (e.g. Goldschmid & Goldschmid, 1976; Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009; McKenna & French, 2011). One method is to divide your class into small groups (e.g. 3-5 students) and give each group sufficient preparation time to co-plan and co-teach a section of an upcoming lesson. During the lesson, the groups then take turns to teach their section of the lesson, with opportunities for the class to provide feedback on content and pedagogic approach. For a less extreme version of this, you could give students an overview of what you plan to cover in a module or in a particular session, then ask them to decide which ideas they want to spend more time on or focus on in more detail; this can also help students develop a crucial skill: the ability to evaluate and prioritise key information within limited time constraints.

4) Students question themselves, each other, the teacher and the literature (decentralised questioning)

Explicitly teaching students how to question and prompting them to question each other can facilitate peer learning (Choi et al., 2005; King, 1990). Instructing learners in how to question the teacher and how to question the literature in constructive ways can promote critical thinking skills. Providing question prompts, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy question stems (https://bit.ly/peerquestioning), and guidance, such as allowing appropriate thinking time for others to answer and requesting a delayed response, can help support learners in this process.

5) Co-construction of knowledge (decentralised construction of knowledge)

Collaborative engagement with subject content can remove barriers to learning and challenge learners to think in different ways (Chan & Pow, 2020; Talis, 2021; Zhu et al., 2020). This can be achieved by using tools such as Talis Elevate or Hypothesis to allow students to comment directly on a reading, video or slides. For open access texts, you could paste them into an online collaborative Word/Google doc and use the commenting feature. This allows students to add comments/questions to specific parts of the text. Others can read and respond, transforming reading into a dynamic, interactive co-construction of understanding.

Transferability to different contexts

Radical collaboration could be effective in a range of contexts (prompts for Sciences and Humanities are shared below). Due to the non-standard approach, clearly communicating the rationale and building a shared culture through regular communication and online resources is crucial for success.

In Sciences – Could you involve students in the design/evaluation of practical lab sessions? Could they use XR or software simulations to propose/explore experiments which have never been done before?

In Humanities – Could you re-think your course to be a project in which students curate a museum/gallery exhibition? This could be shared via collaborative slides, Padlet/Mural/Miro boards, or a VR environment.

Links to tools and resources


Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00138871

Bovill, C. (2020). Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education, 79(6), 1023-1037. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00453-w

Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 18(4), 197-205. https://doi.org/10.1002/chp.1340180402

Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Chan, J. W., & Pow, J. W. (2020). The role of social annotation in facilitating collaborative inquiry-based learning. Computers & Education, 147, 103787. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103787

Choi, I., Land, S. M., & Turgeon, A. J. (2005). Scaffolding peer-questioning strategies to facilitate metacognition during online small group discussion. Instructional Science, 33(5), 483-511. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-005-1277-4

Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 4(5).

Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821936116

Emory, J. (2014). Understanding backward design to strengthen curricular models. Nurse Educator, 39(3), 122-125. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNE.0000000000000034

Goldschmid, B., & Goldschmid, M. L. (1976). Peer teaching in higher education: A review. Higher Education, 5(1), 9-33. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01677204

Han, H. S., Vomvoridi-Ivanović, E., Jacobs, J., Karanxha, Z., Lypka, A., Topdemir, C., & Feldman, A. (2014). Culturally responsive pedagogy in higher education: A collaborative self-study. Studying Teacher Education, 10(3), 290-312. https://doi.org/10.1080/17425964.2014.958072

Jackson, C. K., & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(4), 85-108. https://doi.org/10.3386/w15202

King, A. (1990). Reciprocal peer-questioning: A strategy for teaching students how to learn from lectures. The Clearing House, 64(2), 131-135. https://doi.org/10.1080/00098655.1990.9955828

Lithwick, D. (2012, June 8). Chaos theory: A unified theory of muppet types. Slate. https://slate.com/human-interest/2012/06/chaos-theory.html

McKenna, L., & French, J. (2011). A step ahead: Teaching undergraduate students to be peer teachers. Nurse Education in Practice, 11(2), 141-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nepr.2010.10.003

Moore, J. (2005). Is higher education ready for transformative learning? A question explored in the study of sustainability. Journal of Transformative Education, 3(1), 76-91. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344604270862

Renn, K. A. (2020). Reimagining the study of higher education: Generous thinking, chaos, and order in a low consensus field. The Review of Higher Education, 43(4), 917-934. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2020.0025

Robinson, C., Sterner, G., & Johnson, T. (2006). Don’t build it and they will come: Creating space for wholeness, meaning, and purpose in higher education. Journal of College and Character, 7(6), 1-4. https://doi.org/10.2202/1940-1639.1204

Ruge, G., Tokede, O., & Tivendale, L. (2019). Implementing constructive alignment in higher education–cross-institutional perspectives from Australia. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 833-848. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1586842

Talis (2021) How Can We Lower Barriers to Entry for Students to Engage? https://bit.ly/talisbarriers

Zhu, X., Chen, B., Avadhanam, R. M., Shui, H., & Zhang, R. Z. (2020). Reading and connecting: using social annotation in online classes. Information and Learning Sciences, 121(5/6), 261-271. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-04-2020-0117

About the Author

Tab Betts is a Lecturer in Higher Education Pedagogy at the University of Sussex. He is co-founder and institutional co-lead for the Active Learning Network (ALN). For many years, he has been promoting evidence-based approaches to active learning in higher education and the use of learning technologies to create inclusive blended learning environments and facilitate large-scale collaboration. He has won a number of awards, including  six awards for Outstanding or Innovative Teaching and a 2021 Global Academic Development Good Practice Award with the ALN.


An institutional approach to active learning: lessons learned

Richard Beggs

A detailed diagram of the Learning Environment Plan Ulster University 2017-2020. Active Learning Pedagogies are at the core of the plan and all activity is viewed through this lens. The Flexible foundation are the systems and underpinning infrastructure around room booking, timetabling, IT support, Employability and Students Union. The learning environment itself is split into digital and physical and formal and informal. There is a recognition that ubiquitous WIFI is needed as is a Low-tech and high-tech approach.
Figure 1. Ulster University Learning Environment Plan

What is the idea?

Ulster University is approaching the end of the development of its new campus in the centre of Belfast which will provide state-of-the-art physical and digital learning and teaching environments (Ulster University, 2020). This has provided the institution and its students and staff with a fantastic opportunity to evaluate our learning and teaching practices and to adopt a new approach across our physical and digital learning environments. An active and collaborative approach to learning and teaching has been adopted and has benefits to all students, removes gaps in student engagement, attendance, attainment and progression (Nottingham Trent University, 2019). This approach requires a significant amount of change in approaches to learning and teaching. Change is all about people, they are at the heart of change (Blake & Bush, 2009). In order to get staff and students on board with our learning and teaching aspirations the learning environment plan shown above in Figure 1 was created which puts people at the centre to provide a framework for strategic enhancement. This framework provided opportunities for staff to try something new, create staff/student collaborative partnerships, encourage active learning, learn from toolkits and training and to create safe spaces for both staff and students to experiment. This chapter will detail the approach and offer a lessons learned checklist for others who may be considering a similar approach.

Why this idea?

An evaluation was carried out in 2015, by visiting professor Jos Boys from UCL (Boys, 2017). This Learning Landscapes report identified several opportunities as well as common themes: underpinning infrastructure; institutional culture; and, learning and teaching practices. Recommendations indicated that more active learning spaces were required, as well as investment in staff and buildings. The Learning Environment plan was then created to provide a framework to realise the opportunities and to align them to our strategic objectives. Flexibility in learning spaces is key to this plan and relies heavily on built pedagogy (Monahan, 2002). The aim was to provide staff with the skills, experience and support for the opening of the new Belfast campus in 2022 as well as enhancing practice on the other two campuses in Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry. It was also key for our students to be involved and for their voices to be heard, along with opportunities for collaborative partnership. As a result, a number of projects were created to help achieve the learning environment plan. These were:

  • Introduction of Staff Active Learning Champions – One per school
  • Introduction of Student Learning Partners – Current students x30
  • Apps for Active Learning – Development of several classroom enhancement technologies
  • Refurbishment of 20 legacy teaching spaces to active/collaborative design
  • Creation of the Learning Lab – A safe space for staff to experiment
  • Sequencing Learning Activities Pilot – Evaluating teaching practice in active learning spaces (Formal/informal and physical/digital)

How could others implement this idea?

Institutional change won’t happen overnight. Ulster University’s journey started back in 2015 and it is only now beginning to be realised, but it is still a work-in-progress. The Covid-19 pandemic did put a spanner in the works to a large extent as staff and students weren’t able to be on campus to explore the physical learning environments. However, there is a silver lining in that flipped learning (Advance HE, 2017) may have been a positive by-product of the online pivot. This does however raise a question around ensuring accessibility and universal design for learning (CAST, 2018) which are potential future additions to the learning environment plan. In 2017 when designing the learning environment plan, I identified the key objectives for this project that were aligned to our strategic plan (Ulster University, 2016) and the learning and teaching strategy (Hazlett, 2018). The key learning points from that exercise are listed below and available in a downloadable checklist (those in academic development roles may find it useful to formulate a plan for change):

  1. Look at your context. What is active learning within your institution? What are the basics of active learning to get staff started? And how can you make your staff and students aware of these?
  2. Identify the key operational objectives aligned to strategic priorities.
  3. What is within your sphere of influence and where do you need buy in and support from others?
  4. Who do you need to speak to, to make things happen? Start conversations with the Student Union, Timetabling, IT, Academic Development and Estates departments.
  5. Set out your timeframe with key delivery times. Make sure they are realistic.
  6. Start small. Scale up year on year.
  7. How can I get people onboard? Remember it’s all about people, so whether that is teaching staff, students or professional support staff we need people to enact change and become change agents. We wanted to reward students and staff for embracing active learning through:
    • Active learning Champions (One per school) to reward staff for taking risks. The CMALT carrot was used to entice them to take on the role. At time of print 20 academic colleagues are registered for CMALT and 2 have already achieved certification.
    • Student Learning Partners to reward students for partnership. Learning and teaching bursaries for 6 hours per week partnership activity.
    • Pilot activity around using different Apps and spaces can give you an evidence base to demonstrate impact to senior management.
  8. Some things will be out of your control. Go with the flow.
  9. Schedule CPD sessions to encourage learning design that incorporates active learning.
  10. Include active learning pedagogies in revalidation/review activity. Constructive alignment is at the core of our curriculum design principles.
  11. Try and get the default room layout to be of an active/collaborative nature, where tables are set out in groups rather than in rows.
  12. Reflect on lessons learned from the online pivot. What can be kept?

Transferability to different contexts

Although this case study is within an HE context, the holistic approach is transferable to any sector. Simple things like adopting an active/collaborative approach to room layouts, with groupings rather than rows, can have a huge impact on the learning experience. In saying that, for a root and branch approach, there needs to be buy-in from senior management. Active learning needs to be embedded within institutional strategies and policies to help drive through the change at an operational level. This needs to be supplemented with a bottom-up approach, with student and staff champions acting as change agents.

Links to tools and resources

  • Learning environment plan and active learning resources
  • Institutional approach to active learning: lessons learned checklist
  • Student Learning Partners
  • Staff Active Learning Champions
  • The Learning Lab

View resources on Padlet: https://padlet.com/rtg_beggs/u5adz7qzsfud4u95


Advance HE. (2017). Flipped learning – Knowledge hub. Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/flipped-learning-0

Blake, I., & Bush, C. (2009). Project managing change: Practical tools and techniques to make change happen. Pearson Education.

Boys, J. (2017). Learning futures? Learning landscapes evaluation and recommendations. https://padlet-uploads.storage.googleapis.com/57779451/7b8e92508e701813936141ba95145128/UU_LLtransitions_Aug17FINAL_JosBoys.pdf

Beggs, R. T. G. (2019). Learning landscape activity. https://www.ulster.ac.uk/cherp/resources/learning-landscape-resources 

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Hazlett, D. (2018). (Draft) Ulster University learning and Teaching strategy: ‘Learning for success’, 2018/19-2023/24. Ulster University. https://www.ulster.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/346791/Draft-LT-strategy-260618.pdf

Monahan, T. (2002). Flexible space & built pedagogy: Emerging IT embodiments. Inventio, 4(1): 1-19. http://publicsurveillance.com/papers/built_pedagogy.pdf

Nottingham Trent University. (2019). Active Collaborative Learning: Addressing barriers to student success: Final Report.  https://www.ntu.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0027/1063089/NTU-ABSS-Final-Report-revised-Oct-2019.pdf

Ulster University. (2016). Five & fifty. https://www.ulster.ac.uk/fiveandfifty/strategicplan.pdf

Ulster University. (2020). Enhanced Belfast campus. https://www.ulster.ac.uk/campuses/gbd/about

Image Attribution

Figure 1. Ulster University Learning Environment Plan by Richard Beggs is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Author

Richard works in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP) and teaches on Ulster University’s First Steps to Teaching and their Masters of Education (HE). He is the lead for the Learning Landscapes project in which active learning is at its core. He has worked in HE for 15 years and prior to joining CHERP worked in the University’s Digital Learning department for 11 years. Richard is the chair of the ALT Active Learning Special Interest Group.


1b Active Learning Curricula


Active learning about active-learning design with a ‘tool-to-think-with’

Dr Éric Bel and Johanna Tomczak

Open Cube - Illustration showing the template for creating a cube with 6 sides, numbered and coloured individuallyWhat is the idea?

What would you do if, in the middle of a busy day, you arrived in a classroom, where a group of eager learners were waiting for you, and suddenly you discovered that there was a power cut? How would you react in relation to the digital technology-dependent learning session that you had thoroughly planned to facilitate on this occasion? Cancel this lesson, revert to talking to – or, worse, at – your audience, ready for a passive learning experience, or do your best, and decide that, next time, you will plan learning differently?

What follows is our contribution to prompting you, or those you support in enhancing their teaching, to review the way active-learning opportunities are planned, with the help of a simple, practical “tool to think with over a lifetime” (Papert, 1980, p. 76). At this stage, we should note that ‘active learning’, in our view, refers to any type of learning that will involve learners, therefore prompt them to engage in some form of activity; build upon learners’ intrinsic motivations, rather than extrinsic reasons, for learning; promote construction of knowledge and development of skills by, rather than transmission of information to, learners; allow, and encourage, them to explore and make mistakes; provide learners with comments on their progress.

We start from the premise that, in a time of crisis, when much of what we need in order to teach has broken down, there is nothing more useful than a good old, tested theoretical framework. This enables us to stop, reflect and, perhaps, go one or two steps back in our active-learning design practice, to anticipate what should remain, for example, if technology fails. We hope that you will be able to apply our printable easy-to-use ‘tool-to-think-with’ to designing active learning, to avoid some potential technological nightmare; or simply to remember why you used to enjoy learning and teaching so much before electronic devices became ubiquitous in education!

Our proposed tool-to-think-with emphasises the idea that, whether you plan to facilitate a single lesson, a series of connected learning sessions or a whole course, the best approach to adopt may well be to refrain from thinking about using the latest technological gimmicks. Indeed, instead, adopting a systematic approach to thinking about what is going to happen in the learning opportunities that you are designing should enable you to be as ready as possible for whatever crisis that is still to come, be it this power cut which was mentioned earlier, or any other types of critical incidents in your teaching practice.

This is how we would like to share with you our idea of a tool-to-think-with, for active-learning design, which is largely based on a well-rehearsed, but powerful, concept: What Biggs (1996) calls ‘constructive alignment’ (see also Young’s and Perović’s (2014) suggested activities that could be implemented in individual lessons). Our tool-to-think-with consists of two cubes: one with, on each side, one number from 1 to 6, along with the title of one of the six stages of our recommended active-learning design process (Cube 1); the other one with, on each side, more detailed information on each of these stages (Cube 2).

The following table provides more detail about each cube (please note that templates are attached to this text). For both cubes, the sides are listed in chronological order of these six main active-learning design stages.

Cube 1

Cube 2

Cube side 1 content and audience

We design learning for others and in a given context, which we need to be aware of. We should think of:

stakeholder requirements;


learning group size;

learner profile (for example: age, gender, educational and cultural background, language, specific needs, motivation).

Cube side 2 aims and outcomes

Intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are at the heart of the active-learning design process, aligned to the aims, themselves aligned to the context and audience:

Aims: What we intend learners to learn.

ILOs: Expressed in statements of what learners are expected to be able to do once they have learnt what is described in the aims – and the content of which should be meaningful, achievable and measurable.

Cube side 3 Assessment and feedback

Once the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) have been clearly identified, learners’ achievements, in terms of knowledge, understanding or skills, can be assessed. The assessment should provide a measure of the level of achievement of all the ILOs, and it should not assess the achievement of anything important that would not be described in the learning-outcome statements. We should think of: validity; reliability; feasibility; timing; authenticity; institutional guidelines.

Moreover, a strategy for provision of constructive, useable and timely feedback can be planned as an integral part of the active-learning design process.

Cube side 4 content

This is the obvious element of learning design, which we tend to think about first.  Well, our tool-to-think-with encourages us to leave it until after we have started clarifying the way we intend to assess learners’ achievement of the intended learning outcomes.  Then, through identifying what Meyer et al. (2006) call ‘threshold concepts’, a list of important topics that learners should engage with can be drawn.

Cube side 5 methods and resources

Once the previous stages have been considered, it is possible to:

identify the teaching methods that are best adapted for promoting active learning, as well as any resources – be they technological or not – that could be essential;

create appropriate scaffolding (Bruner et al., 1976) of learners’ active engagement with areas of learning highlighted in the learning-outcome statements;

include support mechanisms for learners in their individual and collaborative construction of knowledge and development of skills, and, eventually, towards their achieving the outcomes that are expected from their learning.

Cube side 6 evaluation

How will we know that the learning experience that we are designing will have been effective? An appropriate strategy should be planned at an early stage in the learning design process, to create regular evaluation points in the overall learning opportunity in question. We should think of the most appropriate method of finding out:

how learners feel about their learning;

how they have progressed towards the achievement of the intended learning outcomes;

whether the aims have been met;

what we could do to improve this learning opportunity.

Why this idea?

As we, educators, often feel that we are asked to make changes just for the sake of changing, it is refreshing to be able to slow down, or even stop, and reconsider what really matters to us in our professional lives. In this day and age of digitally-heavy instruction, the tutor’s worst nightmare may look like the failure of this very technology. However, it should not have to be this way; if only, when we plan learning opportunities, we could go back to the fundamentals of the tutor’s facilitating role (see our interpretation of Laurillard’s (2002) conversational model in Tomczak & Bel, 2021, p. 4).

We are likely to have had an overdose of digital technology imposed upon us, lately, for example, during the pandemic of the early 2020s. This technocratic approach has helped for a while, but we would like to suggest that our tool-to-think-with could be used to bring back to the forefront of our thinking about teaching, the powerful process of active-learning design described above.

How could others implement this idea?

Well, our tool-to-think-with could form the active learning part of a workshop with teachers who are new to facilitating learning in higher education, for example postgraduate researchers. Workshop participants could be asked, first, to design, in pairs or small groups, a seminar based on a given topic and a digital presentation used in a related lecture. Then, they could be asked to explain their approach to designing this seminar. Their description of this process is likely to show that their focus is on content and deciding what to include on each slide of a digital presentation. At this stage of the workshop, the concept of constructive alignment, mentioned previously, could be introduced, and more specifically the main stages of the active-learning design process described above.

As workshop participants are given the task to apply their new learning to designing the same seminar, they could be prompted to utilise our tool-to-think-with. Initially, participants could be asked to consider Cube 1 and explain, in chronological order, what each stage of the active-learning design process is about. If they are uncertain about any of the six stages referred to on Cube 1, then they could be prompted to use Cube 2 and find the matching recommendations. This visual, kinaesthetic, as well as collaborative, experience promotes, and helps workshop participants to memorise, a structured and anticipatory approach to thinking about learning sessions that they are going to facilitate.

This type of active learning about active-learning design, with our tool-to-think-with, has been shown to lead to a paradigm shift regarding what active learning is about and how it can be planned into any learning opportunities.

Transferability to different contexts

As explained in this example, this tool-to-think-with can be used to help with planning individual learning sessions. However, the process of designing active learning is similar when planning modules or whole courses. Therefore, the tool-to-think-with can be used equally successfully, in those situations, with individuals or groups, to emphasise what, at the planning stage, really matters when designing active learning; especially when there might be a power cut!

Links to tools and resources

See Appendix for templates.


Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364.  https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00138871.

Bruner, J. S., Ross, G., & Wood, D. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 17(2), 89-100. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x.

Laurillard, D. (2002) Rethinking university teaching – A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. Second edition. London: Routledge. Available at: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315012940.

Meyer, J. H. F., Land, R., & Davies, P. (2006). Implications of threshold concepts for course design and evaluation. In Meyer, J. H. F. & Land, R. (eds). Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge.  London: Routledge, 195-206.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers and powerful ideas. Basic Books.

Tomczak, J., & Bel, E. (2021). A conversational framework for learning design (in adverse times). Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (22). Available at: https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.vi22.705.

Young, C., & Perović, N. (2016). Rapid and Creative Course Design: As Easy as ABC? Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 228, 390-395. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.07.058.

Image Attributions

Open Cube by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Cube side 1. Content and Audience by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Cube side 2. Aims and Outcomes by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Cube side 3. Assessment and Feedback by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Cube side 4. Content by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Cube side 5. Method and Resources by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Cube side 6. Evaluation by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Template Cube 1 by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Template Cube 2 by Eric Bel and Johanna Tomczak is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence




Template for Cube 1

Template Cube 2

About the Authors

Formerly a chemist, then head of languages at Teesside University, Dr Éric Bel has been training teachers in various areas of education for more than twenty years. He is a technophile, but only when technology serves, not drives, learning and teaching.

Johanna Tomczak is currently completing her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Leeds. Interested in pedagogy, she has been facilitating seminars for undergraduate students in Psychology since the start of her PhD.


The Be ACTIVE Framework

Thomas Broderick; Dr Eileen O’Leary; Linda O’Sullivan; and Professor Jim O’Mahony

What is the idea?

The Be ACTIVE Framework is a theoretical, structured, exploratory framework that aims to guide and support, in a stepwise manner, all those who teach, in the planning, implementation, evaluation and improvement of active learning in their everyday teaching practice. It is built on the mnemonic ‘Be ACTIVE’, where each letter represents a step in the process to guide individuals implementing active learning.

B: Begin by reflecting on your current practice

e: Ethical consideration

A: Analyse your context & Assess possible Active Learning strategies

C: Choose an appropriate Active Learning strategy & Communicate the why, what and how with your students

T: Build Trust & Test the strategy with your class

I: Investigate, Innovate, Improve and Be Inclusive

V: Validate through feedback from students, self, & peers, and add Value by consulting the literature

E: Evaluate the Evidence, Enhance the process and Engage in further Active Learning


Be ACTIVE Framework: B-Begin; e-Ethics Application; A-Analyse and Asses; C-Choose and Communicate; T-Build Trust & Test; I-Investigate, Innovate, Improve and Be Inclusive; V-Validate and Add Value; E-Evaluate Evidence, Enhance and Engages
Figure 1. Be ACTIVE Framework

This framework is purposely designed in a cyclical manner, to demonstrate that the process is a continuous development and improvement cycle. It is available as an interactive poster, where each step in the process has a corresponding short video tutorial outlining the relevant considerations and an activity sheet to record the user’s ideas, thoughts, and evidence. The tutorials explore the how and why of each step in the cycle, highlight the advantages of Active Learning to users and provide a rationale that can be shared with students to encourage enthusiastic engagement in active learning. The activity sheets provide guiding questions to help users adapt the ideas to their own context, prompt thinking through these ideas and provide a means to record, research, discuss and improve their practice.

Why this idea?

Active Learning has received considerable attention in recent years as educators continue to look for more effective ways of engaging students in different environments and contexts. However, shifting from the more traditional didactic transmission mode presents challenges for educators and their students.  The ‘Be ACTIVE’ Framework has been developed to provide support and address some of these challenges. This framework gives the user the ‘tips’ and the ‘how to’ without the need to complete an entire course! It should also encourage their further engagement with the literature as their practice improves and their interest in Active learning grows.

How could others implement this idea?

The ‘Be ACTIVE Framework’ can be used by individuals interested in implementing and evaluating new active learning approaches.

They simply follow each step on the mnemonic ‘Be ACTIVE’ as outlined below, i.e.:

  1. Start with the ‘B activity’, where users are encouraged to ‘self-reflect’ on how they are currently teaching and what they can start to do differently in their context.
  2. The ‘e Activity’ is aimed at those interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning and alerts such users to the importance of ethics and getting ethical approval prior to conducting educational research.
  3. Watch the tutorial and complete the ‘A activity’, which encourages users to consider:
    • Why use active learning?
    • Where will teaching take place (face-to-face, online etc)?
    • What active learning strategy might work in this instance?
    • What is the goal of your active learning strategy?
  4. Watch the tutorial and complete the ‘C activity’ which guides users on their choice of active learning strategy and considers communicating the why, what, and how of active learning with their students.
  5. Watch the tutorial and complete the ‘T activity’, which prompts users to build a trusting relationship with students, so they feel safe and are willing to take risks, ask questions and share their thoughts and ideas
  6. Watch the tutorial and complete the ‘I activity’, which encourages users to consider questions like:
    • Were their instructions clear?
    • Could their students follow them easily?
    • Did they over or underestimate the time for the activity and did this impact on students’ level of engagement?
    • Did it work for them and their students?
    • What would they remove, change or add?
    • What did they learn, how could they make the class more inclusive?
  7. Watch the tutorial and complete the ‘V activity’ which leverages Brookfield’s Four Lens model, to guide the user to source feedback from peers, self, students and the literature and examine how they can change their practice to add value as a result of feedback.
  8. Watch the tutorial and complete the ‘E-activity’, which prompts users to assess the impact of their initiative and how the learning experience could be improved further. It encourages the users to engage with students as partners in this process, the literature and others in their institution.

Links to the interactive poster, tutorials and activity sheets are included in ‘Links to Tools and Resources’.

Transferability to different contexts

The Be ACTIVE Framework is useful in all contexts where learning happens. It is not context based, the short video tutorials provide tips and the activity sheets provide ‘guiding questions’ that each user can respond to in the context of their own teaching. It is applicable to all disciplines, to individuals teaching at all levels, in all environments, face-to-face, online (synchronous or asynchronous), distance autonomous learners, etc. It is an approach, guided and supported with resources to help all those who teach, develop policy or design curriculum to embed Active Learning in their practice.

Even though what is outlined here shows how the Be ACTIVE Framework can guide individual practice, this framework can also be exploited at institutional level to foster best practice. It can guide new and structured conversations around the scholarship of teaching and learning in relation to active learning and encourage uptake in pedagogical research.

Links to tools and resources

Be Active Framework poster
Figure 2. The Be ACTIVE Framework poster


The interactive, Be ACTIVE Framework Poster can be accessed by clicking on ‘Be ACTIVE Framework’ (https://tlu.cit.ie/contentfiles/ALN%20-%20Conference%202021%20Poster%20Final.pdf) or ‘Be ACTIVE Framework Stepwise’ (https://view.genial.ly/620be0b7ab3f04001287d701)

The resources associated with each phase of the Be ACTIVE Framework are also made available below:

B: Begin teaching

Activity B: Initial Self-Reflection

References: (Miller, 2010; Moon, 2004; Moon, 2006; Moon, n.d.-a, n.d.-b)


e: Ethical Consideration

Activity e: Consider Ethics Application


A: Analyse your context, Assess possible Active Learning strategies

Overview Video: Analyse and Assess

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=52#oembed-1

Activity A: Analyse and Assess

References: (Elsevier Author Services, n.d.; Honeycutt, n.d.; Moss, 2020; Open Courses, n.d.; The Active Learning Network, n.d.; The K. Patricia Cross Academy, n.d.)


C: Choose an appropriate Active Learning strategy & Communicate the why what and how with your students

Overview Video: Choose and Communicate

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=52#oembed-2

Activity C: Choose and Communicate

References: (Bunce et al., 2010; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Christersson & Staaf, 2019; Felder & Brent, 2009; Halloun & Hestenes, 1985; Moss, 2020; O’Neill & McMahon, 2005; Revell & Wainwright, 2009)


T:  Build Trust & Test the strategy with your class

Overview Video: Build Trust & Test

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=52#oembed-3

Activity T: Build Trust & Test

References: (Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, n.d.; Hattie & Zierer, 2017; Tharayil et al., n.d.; Tofade et al., 2013)


I: Investigate, Innovate, Improve and Be Inclusive.

Overview Video: Investigate, Innovate, Improve and be Inclusive

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=52#oembed-4

Activity I: Investigate, Innovate, Improve and be Inclusive

References: (CAST, n.d.; Miller, 2010)


V: Validate through feedback from, student’s, self, & peers, and add Value by consulting the literature

Overview Video: Validate & Add Value

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=52#oembed-5

Activity V:  Validate & Add Value

References: (Brookfield, 2002; Mentimeter, n.d.; Miller, 2010; Poll Everywhere, n.d.)


E. Evaluate the Evidence, Enhance the process and Engage in further Active Learning

Overview Video: Evaluate evidence, Enhance & Engage

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=52#oembed-6

Activity E: Evaluate evidence, Enhance & Engage

References: (The Active Learning Network, n.d.)


Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. (n.d.). Questioning Techniques: Research-Based Strategies for Teachers — Energy and the Polar Environment —  https://beyondpenguins.ehe.osu.edu/issue/energy-and-the-polar-environment/questioning-techniques-research-based-strategies-for-teachers

Brookfield, S. D. (2002). Using the lenses of critically reflective teaching in the community college classroom. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2002(118), 31–38. https://doi.org/10.1002/cc.61

Bunce, D. M., Flens, E. A., & Neiles, K. Y. (2010). How long can students pay attention in class? A study of student attention decline using clickers. Journal of Chemical Education, 87(12), 1438–1443. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed100409p

CAST (n.d.) UDL On Campus: Universal Design for Learning in higher education. http://udloncampus.cast.org/home

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3, 7.

Christersson, C., & Staaf, P. (2019). Learning & Teaching paper #5. Promoting active learning in universities: Thematic Peer Group Report. https://eua.eu/resources/publications/814:promoting-active-learning-in-universities-thematic-peer-group-report.html

Elsevier Author Services. (n.d.). FINER: a Research Framework. https://scientific-publishing.webshop.elsevier.com/research-process/finer-research-framework/

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2009). Active Learning: An Introduction. ASQ Higher Education Brief 2(4).

Halloun, I. A., & Hestenes, D. (1985). The initial knowledge state of college physics students. American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 1043-1055. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1119/1.14030

Hattie, J., & Zierer, K. (2017). 10 mindframes for visible learning: Teaching for success. Routledge.

Honeycutt, B. (n.d.). Lecture Breakers Podcast & Show Notes. https://barbihoneycutt.com/blogs/podcast

Mentimeter. (n.d.). Create live word clouds. https://www.mentimeter.com/features/word-cloud

Miller, B. (2010). Brookfield’s Four Lenses: Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Faculty of Arts Learning and Teaching Committee, The University of Sydney.

Moon, J. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. RoutledgeFalmer.

Moon, J. (2006). A generic framework for reflective writing. A handbook for reflective practice and professional development., 161–163. Abingdon: Routledge. 

Moon, J. (n.d.-a). An example of a graduated scenario exercise – ‘The Park’. http://www.cetl.org.uk/UserFiles/File/reflective-writing-project/ThePark.pdf

Moon, J. (n.d.-b). Reflective Writing – some initial guidance for students. https://efs.weblogs.anu.edu.au/files/2018/01/Moon-on-Reflective-Writing.pdf

Moss, P. G. (2020). Chunking Lectures – it’s a bit of a no-brainer. https://paulgmoss.com/2020/09/13/chunking-lectures-its-a-bit-of-a-no-brainer/

O’Neill, G., & McMahon, T. (2005). Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? Emerging Issues in the Practice of University Learning and Teaching., 1. http://www.aishe.org/readings/2005-1/

Open Courses (n.d.) Enhancing Teaching through Interactive Classes to Engage Students. https://opencourses.ie/opencourse/enhancing-teaching-through-interactive-classes-to-engage-students/

Poll Everywhere. (n.d.). 20 word cloud activities for a live audience. Retrieved July 14, 2021, from https://blog.polleverywhere.com/word-clouds-for-open-response-audience-activity/

Revell, A., & Wainwright, E. (2009). What Makes Lectures “Unmissable”? Insights into Teaching Excellence and Active Learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 33(2), 209–223. https://doi.org/10.1080/03098260802276771

Tharayil, S., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Nguyen, K. A., Shekhar, P., Finelli, C. J., & Waters, C. (n.d.). Strategies to mitigate student resistance to active learning. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-018-0102-y

The Active Learning Network – A community for anyone interested in active learning. (n.d.). https://activelearningnetwork.com/

The K. Patricia Cross Academy. (n.d.). Videos. https://kpcrossacademy.org/videos/

Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013). Best practice strategies for effective use of questions as a teaching tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 77(7).

Image Attributions

Figure 1. Be ACTIVE Framework by Thomas Broderick, Eileen O’Leary, Jim Mahony, and Linda O’Sullivan,  is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 2. Be ACTIVE Framework poster by Thomas Broderick, Eileen O’Leary, Jim Mahony, and Linda O’Sullivan,  is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Authors

Thomas Broderick is a Lecturer in the Department of Sport, Leisure and Childhood Studies and is also affiliated with the Teaching and Learning Unit (TLU) at Munster Technological University. Thomas has qualifications in Educational Leadership, Physical Education and Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Thomas leads a TLU supported Learning Community on Active Learning looking to embed active learning practices across MTU. He has secured over €25,000 from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education for various funded projects including supporting student wellbeing and implementing a framework for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in MTU. He is a facilitator for the Digital Badge for Universal Design for the National Forum for the Enhancement for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Dr Eileen O’Leary holds a PhD in Organic Chemistry, a Masters in T&L and a Certificate in Coaching and Leadership. She has led the development, nationally, of a Digital Badge on Enhancing Teaching Through Interactive Classes to Engage Students (EnTICE) in collaboration with the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Currently, she is a Lecturer in the Dept. of Physical Sciences, MTU, Cork. She is seconded to the Teaching and Learning Unit on a part-time basis, leading out on a new programme, Enabling Academic Transitions through Professional Development (EAT-PD), aimed at encouraging new staff to take a more reflective and student-centred approach to practice by incorporating active learning.

Linda O’Sullivan holds an MSc in Statistics and works as an Academic Project Lead with the Teaching and Learning Unit (TLU) at MTU, Cork. Linda is responsible for developing, organising, curating and marketing in excess of 100 of the TLU’s continuing professional development (CPD) workshops/seminars and liaises with external consultants and internal stakeholders to deliver programmes that enhance the essential skill sets of MTU staff and students. In 2019 and 2020, she coordinated the internal application/review processes for MTU’s allocation of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s Strategic Alignment of Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund providing access to €637,000 in funding to MTU staff and students. Prior to joining the TLU, Linda lectured for 15 years with the Department of Computer Science where she coordinated a number of class groups, taught modules from level 6-9, supervised projects to undergraduate and post-graduate level, mentored new colleagues, coordinated inter-departmental retention/engagement activities, liaised with external stakeholders in industry and successfully obtained funding for research. Linda has a strong industrial background having worked for two leading companies in the pharmaceutical and electronics sectors.

Professor Jim O’Mahony holds a PhD in Microbiology and is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences at MTU, Ireland. Jim was the founding director of the level 8 degree programme in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology which now hosts 90 final year students. In 2017 he took up a part-time secondment in T&L where he has overseen many initiatives aimed at promoting and supporting T&L initiatives including the establishment of over 30 Learning Communities. Jim also serves on many national advisory bodies including the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and the National Academic Integrity Network.


Engaging and empowering early-career academics: an active learning curriculum design for the APA/PGCLTHE

Dr Bianca Fox; Dr Sandy Cope; Adam Tate; and Vicky Breckin

What is the idea?

This short chapter describes the interlinked pedagogical principles used to rethink the curriculum design of the Academic Professional Apprenticeship (APA)/Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLTHE) course at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). Active learning was a key tenet of the redesign of the course. The focus was on engaging course participants in experiential learning, peer problem solving, and project-based learning, both synchronously and asynchronously. This chapter is particularly useful for course teams who want to redesign a course creatively. The curriculum design principles explored in this chapter would apply mainly to thin modules longer than one semester or one academic year.

Why this idea?

To inspire and enhance the teaching and learning practices of the students undertaking the APA/PGCLTHE course, active learning philosophies were embedded. In short, learners learn by doing, challenging, discussing, observing, and exploring different ways of teaching and learning in Higher Education. Adopting a teaching philosophy of active and participatory engagement, the general principles that guided the design and planning of the curriculum were as follows:

1. Chunking thin modules (year-long or longer) into smaller units of content that correspond to workplace activities and are directly mapped to the APA standard and UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) dimensions of practice.

2. Scaffolded learning to support work-integrated learning opportunities and enable teaching of threshold concepts.

3. Reflection that improves and solidifies learning at the end of key teaching blocks coupled with tripartite meetings that track and capture learners’ progress against the course Learning Outcomes, APA Knowledge, Skills, Values and Behaviours (KSVBs), and the UKPSF dimensions of practice.

4. Synchronous and asynchronous active collaborative learning and peer support.

5. Assessment for learning: Designing patchwork assessment that supports learners to gather evidence and build towards the end point assessment.

The intention was to move away from a lecture-dominated knowledge transmission model of learning focused primarily on meeting the learning outcomes to a more flexible approach to curriculum design and delivery, which focuses on skills development through work-integrated learning. The planning and delivery of the curriculum are focused on developing skills and competencies through activities in the workplace, supported by off the job training and useful formative activities.

Knowledge previously organised in modules is now planned and delivered in teaching blocks designed through a process of triangulation between course learning outcomes, the APA standard (KSVBs), and UKPSF dimensions of practice and work-integrated learning. A teaching block is a constructed sequence of learning mapped and triangulated (see Figure 1) to a particular key theme so that learning is sequenced for the learner to build multiple skills and discover how to apply them. Through the consideration of constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011) we determined the content included in each teaching block, the teaching blocks included in each module and how progress will be measured. According to Biggs (2003, p. 2) learners “construct meaning through relevant learning activities” which are focused on the end goal and the “desired learning outcomes”. However, unlike Biggs’ cohesive outcome-focused model, our curriculum model focuses on internalising learning outcomes and developing critical self-governing academics who understand the value and impact of their teaching and will continue to engage in CPD beyond the course.


APA/PGCL THE work-integrated Learning Curriculum model
Figure 1. APA/PGCL THE work-integrated Learning Curriculum Model

Learning is scaffolded in each teaching block, allowing for logical progression from simplistic to more complex concepts, theories and ideas and enabling learners to transfer the knowledge and skills gained in each block to the workplace. Each session is mapped against the APA Standard and UKPSF dimensions of practice at D2, and learners are supported to apply the knowledge gained on the course in their own practice, with support from peers, workplace mentors and line managers. Key concepts and theories were selected using the threshold concept theory (Meyer & Land, 2003) coupled with the needs of the learners and employers. Threshold concepts are defined as “concepts that bind a subject together, being fundamental to ways of thinking and practicing in the discipline” (Land, Cousin, & Meyer 2005, p. 54). Through discussions with learners, line managers, mentors, and employers, we created a diverse and collaborative curriculum model that includes multiple perspectives, but more importantly helps to promote professional, social and ethical values and behaviours. This makes teaching on the APA/PGCLTHE learner-centred, inclusive, and contextualised within the workplace.

Our teaching blocks are designed not only to provide the learners with relevant learning experiences, but also to ensure that key concepts and theories can be confidently applied in their classroom with their own students. This approach is supported by an academic mentor and a workplace mentor within their School who assists the learner to complete the blocks through activities within their own School. Throughout the course, all learners are expected to participate in tripartite meetings, which are attended by the learner, a member of staff from the Academic Practice team and a Workplace Mentor from their school. These meetings take place 4x a year and, 6x in total throughout the full duration of the course. The purpose of these meetings is to monitor progress towards the End Point Assessment, to further support learners to make links to the KSVBs and achieve the learning outcomes of the course. The tripartite meetings are also an opportunity to review, feedback and reflect on all aspects of the learning journey. In the context of active collaborative learning, these meetings help to widen the learning community, by supporting students to translate their learning to the workplace and to recognise and identify new opportunities to further develop the KSVBs and apply threshold concepts within their roles. These meetings are also an excellent way of linking to other support channels – for instance other peers on the course, previous course participants, other colleagues who have particular areas of expertise, working groups, forums etc. Action planning is key to a successful tripartite meeting. This is a collaborative process, where targets are agreed, set and reviewed in future meetings, installing a sense of accountability and ensuring important information discussed in meetings is not lost. The value of tripartite meetings increases over time as learners progress, however positive outcomes of these meetings rely on all parties being engaged and invested in the process.

Lastly, the new redesigned course offers opportunities for both patchwork and synoptic assessment to enable knowledge transfer and support learners to make connections between modules, and to understand the relevance and application of the content taught. Patchwork assessment was designed for each module that feeds into the overarching synoptic end point assessment. The rationale behind this assessment strategy is two-fold: first, to assess work against the learning outcomes, the APA Standard and UKPSF and second, to allow learners to undertake experiential learning through formative work-based learning assessment techniques, which form the basis of an authentic assessment experience.

How could others implement this idea?

Any course with long, thin modules could be redesigned using our proposed curriculum design principles.

1. Start by working with your team on identifying threshold concepts.

2. Chunk long thin modules into smaller units of content that enable learners to explore and apply threshold concepts whilst at the same time meet the learning outcomes of the module. (Remember that chunks should ideally be between 5-8 sessions).

3. Consider how to scaffold learning to support learners to apply what they learn on the course either in practical sessions that simulate real-world pressures and deadlines or in the workplace (e.g. Work placement modules). Incorporate active learning strategies and formative authentic assessment opportunities.

4. Embed reflection in your course. Think of key points in your students’ learning journey when they should pause and reflect on their progress and on what they want to achieve next.

5. Assign students to peer support groups from the start of your course and design synchronous and asynchronous active learning activities to encourage them to work in peer support groups.

6. Use assessment for learning principles. Design patchwork assessment to support your students to work towards completing the summative assessment.

Transferability to different contexts

This idea is relevant to all course leaders and module leaders that have to design and deliver year-long or longer modules. The idea would be particularly useful for those designing and delivering courses that need to meet a number of professional frameworks, such as Academic Practice courses.

Links to tools and resources

Academic Professional Apprenticeship Standard: https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/academic-professional/

UK Professional Standards Framework: https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/guidance/teaching-and-learning/ukpsf


Biggs, J.B. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university. Open University Press/Society for Research into Higher Education.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the student does (4th ed.). Open University Press.

Land, R., Cousin, G., & Meyer, J.H.F. (2005). Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (3): Implications for Course Design and Evaluation. In C. Rust (Ed.), Improving Student Learning Diversity and Inclusivity (pp. 53–64). The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

Meyer, J.H.F., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to thinking and practice within the Disciplines. ETL Project. Occasional Report 4, May 2003. http://www.etl.tla.ed.ac.uk/docs/ETLreport4.pdf

Image Attributions

Figure 1. APA/PGCL THE work-integrated Learning Curriculum Model by Bianca Fox, Sandy Cope, Adam Tate and Vicky Breckin is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Authors

Dr. Bianca Fox, SFHEA, is a Senior Lecturer in Academic Practice and Course Leader for the Academic Professional Apprenticeship (APA) / Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in HE (PGCLTHE) at Nottingham Trent University. She has a PhD in Communication Studies and over 15 years of experience in HE. Her research and practice are focused on innovative methods of participation and overcoming educational boundaries through innovative curriculum design and the use of digital technologies.

Dr Sandy Cope leads the Academic Practice and TILT teams, providing services to enhance learning, teaching, assessment and practice for new entrants to NTU. Sandy’s teams lead the Academic Practice Apprenticeship (APA) and Post Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLTHE), the TILT Professional Recognition Scheme (TILT PRS) supporting applicants to achieve membership of Advance HE (AFHEA, FHEA, SFHEA, PFHEA), the Practice and Scholarship Groups, TILT online, Sabbaticals, Seedcorn Funding, Vice Chancellors Teaching Awards, Open Classrooms and other collaborative initiatives to support Teaching and Learning.

Adam Tate joined Nottingham Trent University in March 2021 as a Lecturer in Academic Practice He teaches on the Academic Professional Apprenticeship / Postgraduate Certificate of Learning & Teaching in Higher Education, and he is passionate about effective holistic education utilising appropriate pedagogies for the educational setting/discipline and removing barriers to participation.

Victoria Breckin joined NTU in February 2020 as an Academic Practice Workplace Mentor. Victoria facilitates tripartite meetings with learners, alongside their Workplace Mentors. She monitors progress of learners and supports them through to their End Point Assessment.  She also coordinates workplace mentor training for staff across all schools at NTU. 


Curriculum design that welcomes students into the discipline

Dr Paolo Oprandi

In this short chapter I introduce three principles for an inclusive (or ‘welcoming’) curriculum design, none of which are completely new and all three often come together. The central tenet of the chapter is that a curriculum can act as a barrier to students entering the discipline. By this I mean students who are enthusiastic about the discipline when choosing their degree subject, can start to feel like the curriculum is foreign to them and completing the curriculum tasks, readings and assessments only increases their alienation (Oprandi, 2014). However, principles can be employed that can help a curriculum welcome all students into the discipline, whatever their background, and can help develop a sense of belonging. In the first part I say what the principles are, in the second part I make a case for why they are important and I conclude by suggesting some steps and examples.

What are the principles?

The principles are the following:

  1. To set learning objectives that require the students to understand how what is known has come to be known for a given topic.
  2. To teach the students the conceptual frameworks which have shaped how a topic is understood and provide a space for the frameworks to be questioned and contested.
  3. To provide opportunities for students to come to know parts of the topic for themselves through practice using the disciplinary frameworks and their own experience. This can be done individually or in groups.

Why are these principles important?

Knowledge is in a constant state of constant flux; it is usually highly context-dependent, often contested, and often changes, grows and develops. Furthermore, the frameworks by which we come to know are entrenched in history and culture. While this in itself is inevitable, the space in which the frameworks developed are increasingly contested. For example, the decolonising the curriculum movement challenges the validity of traditional curricula that are increasingly recognised to be western, white, middle-class and male  and in a word, “colonised” (Arday et al., 2021). Principles one and two seek to provide a modest remedy to this by firstly acknowledging the history and cultural contexts in which the conceptual frameworks emerged and, secondly providing a space for them to be used in practice, questioned, contested and, if necessary, refuted.

Like many writing (and reading) this book, I understand that most of us learn best by doing and by applying knowledge to a personal context. The benefits of active learning approaches are many and well documented by renowned educationalists such as Dewey (1938) as far back as the early 1900s and, favourites of mine, Chickering and Gamson (1987). I therefore suggest that curriculum design needs to provide opportunities for students to apply these theoretical frameworks for themselves through practice. Problem-based learning is one teaching approach that can be used to embed Principle three; wherein “the starting point for learning is a problem or challenge which defines the scope of learning” (Boud, 1988 p. 87). It seeks to provide the students with the opportunity to understand how the topic has developed, learn how they can contribute to it and have the opportunity to critique the frameworks used.

How can you implement the principles in your teaching?

How can this be done? I suggest the following three part approach to preparing a session:

  1. Create learning objectives that require students to be familiar with the conceptual frameworks which underpin the topic, to be able to apply the frameworks for themselves and be able to offer a critique of the frameworks
  2. Create an group application task which requires the students to apply the conceptual framework to understand something for themselves
  3. Create a concluding activity which requires students to discuss the cultural history and the limitations of the framework and, if appropriate, propose alternatives.

Example 1: Linguistics

In a linguistics class one might set an objective of exploring the social aspects of how a word is understood. The tutor might present (or provide research time) to explore the conceptual frameworks that have been used to understand the social aspects of a word, such as spelling variations, dialects, registers, jargon, slang, and so on. A group task might be set to apply these frameworks to understand particular words and report back their findings to the whole cohort. The session might be concluded by discussing the usefulness and limitations of the frameworks as well as suggestions for alternative ways of understanding words (Oprandi & Murphy, 2019).

Example 2: Chemistry

In a chemistry class one might set an objective of a perceived reduction in number and size of fish caught along a river. See, for example, this PBL activity on the Royal Society of Chemistry website (Belt et al., 2002). The tutor might present or provide research time to explore the conceptual frameworks for detecting, analysing and suggesting counteractions for river pollution. A group task might be set for the students to act as investigating officers, and apply the frameworks to identify the possible causes and suggest any remedy if required and for the students to feed back their findings to the cohort. The session might be concluded by discussing the cultural history, usefulness and limitations of the theoretical frameworks for tasks such as this.


This short chapter offers a curriculum design that seeks to provide students with conceptual frameworks that they can use to come to know new things. It includes providing the students with the opportunity to critically engage with those frameworks so they can challenge them and/or build upon them. The curriculum design is intended to lower the barriers that can prevent students from entering the discipline and instead invites students to come to know in their own way, welcoming all students into the discipline, whatever their background.


Arday, J., Belluigi, D. Z., & Thomas, D. (2021). Attempting to break the chain: Reimaging inclusive pedagogy and decolonising the curriculum within the academy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 53(3), 298-313. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1773257

Belt, S., Overton, T., & Summerfield, S. (2002). Tales of the Riverbank: Environmental problems – context and problem-based learning. Royal Society of Chemistry. https://edu.rsc.org/resources/tales-of-the-riverbank-environmental/1045.article

Boud D. (1988). Assessment in problem-based learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 13(2), 87-91. https://doi.org/10.1080/0260293880130201

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3, 7.

Dewey, J. (1963). Experience and Education. Kappa Delta PI Lecture Series. Collier-Macmillan Books (Original work published 1938)

Oprandi, P. (2014). Supporting learning autonomy and curriculum coverage in university teaching: Three case studies of formative assessment [Doctoral thesis (EdD), University of Sussex]. http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/51389/

Oprandi, P., & Murphy, M. L. (2019). Specialism-based learning in action: why, how, when? In: W. Garnham, T. Betts,  P. Oprandi, W. Ashall, J. Kirby, M. Steinberg, H. Taylor & V. Walden, Victoria (Eds.) Disrupting traditional pedagogy: Active learning in practice (pp. 58-78). University of Sussex Library.

About the Author

Dr Paolo Oprandi is a Doctor in Education with an academic background which at different times has spanned the sciences, humanities and social sciences. He has worked in the area of learning technologies for 20 years and is currently a Senior Learning Technologist in the Technology Enhanced Learning team at the University of Sussex. His research has focussed on curriculum development that welcomes diversity into the academic disciplines, using the appropriate teaching, learning and assessment technologies.


Designing back from the future: building scenarios to engage students with global challenges

Professor Anke Schwittay

How can we move students from critically analysing contemporary challenges – for example urban inequality and unsustainability – to also imagining possible responses to them? In this chapter, which draws on my book Creative Universities: Reimagining Education for Global Challenges and Alternative Futures (Schwittay, 2021), I show how introducing students to design thinking and methods, including scenario building, is an active learning approach that combines critique and creativity in university classrooms. While design methods can be applied in any course that deals with social, economic or ecological challenges, the activity described here is based on a series of exercises I undertake with students in a third-year specialist module on Urban Futures and is informed by my long-term collaboration with design-educator Paul Braund (Braund & Schwittay, 2006).

I also draw on Anne-Marie Willis’ exercise ‘Designing back from the future,’ where she defines scenarios as projections of likely futures that open them up for reflection, including on the actions necessary to achieve them (Willis, 2014). I use positive and pro-active scenarios that ask students to imagine preferred futures and to pose ‘how might we’ and ‘what if’ questions to make ideas concrete. Willis argues that scenarios need to be set in a specific place and long-enough time horizon and be based on in-depth research to stop them from being fantasies or wishful thinking. Ideally students undertake this research prior to the scenario building activity, but if that is not possible, even giving them basic information and laptop access to conduct on-the-spot research can help provide the necessary realistic context.

The activity works well with student groups of around 5 or 6 members each; if there are more than 5 such groups, several facilitators would ensure that all groups get the necessary attention. This chapter is structured around five suggested steps for how to plan and implement scenario building exercises in class: providing clear structures and inspiring materials, starting with what is familiar to students, asking questions, ensuring that students move from writing to building and debriefing.

1) Provide structure and materials

Even though this might seem counter-intuitive, it is important to give students clear guidelines and structured activity outlines for more open-ended learning activities such as scenario building (Lyon, 2011). From my own experience, students are often not familiar with creative classroom work, can be resistant to it because of ‘I can’t draw’-type reservations, might feel vulnerable outside of their comfort zones or prefer passive knowledge accumulation to exploratory learning (James & Brookfield, 2014). Explaining the objectives of creative classroom activities and how they work, in clear and empathetic ways, puts students at ease and helps to ensure effective learning. In addition, having a room with movable tables and chairs and providing easy-to-manipulate working materials, such as pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, building blocks or natural materials, enhance a sense of playfulness that can alleviate anxieties, engage the senses and allow creativity to flow more freely.

When I have carried out this activity with students, their excitement upon entering a well-prepared room was always palpable, with students often starting to play with the materials they found on the tables, twisting pipe cleaners into whimsical shapes and commenting how the smell of Play-Doh often brought back childhood memories. An inviting set-up therefore shows students that they are allowed and expected to engage in active and creative learning.

2) Start with what students know

Making room for students’ own experiential knowledge introduces additional perspectives, decentres classroom authority and gives student a sense of ownership in their learning. In universities with an urban campus, this could engage the surrounding city (in the case of Sussex University, it’s Brighton where most students live after their first year). Otherwise, if the group collectively decides on a location, recommend that they pick a place that at least one group member knows well. Finding creative ways to bring in students’ experiences can help to get them ready for the activity – in my class students keep a personal Brighton diary for a week where they chronicle their journeys, activities and interactions prior to the scenario building activity. I also challenge students to move away from writing, by producing maps, taking pictures, building artefacts, recording short videos or spoken word pieces. These diary exercises resonate with students who often comment how they come much more aware of their lives in Brighton and can see their experiences as active learning opportunities.

3) Pose questions to guide students’ visioning process

The actual scenario exercise starts with students articulating their preferred future scenarios. If the activity is of sufficient length – I suggest at least 3 hours – and students have enough background knowledge, they can collectively negotiate their own vision, in the process learning that there are often more than one idea of what constitutes a preferred future. Guiding questions are important to facilitate that visioning process, such as:

  • What do we want future urban spaces in [Brighton] to look like?
  • How might we get there?
  • What new structures, laws, behaviours, institutions etc would we need to create?
  • Who will participate in the process and who might be excluded or negatively impacted?

If the activity is shorter, a pre-defined scenario can get students going faster; in my class I suggest the vision of ‘Brighton in 2050 will be a self-sustaining, hospitable and generous city.’ These visions are jumping off points from which students work back to the present and imagine what would need to happen to achieve them.

4) Make sure students build

Sometimes students get stuck on writing, which is how they usually express their thoughts at university, so it might be necessary to remind them throughout the activity that they are expected to draw and to build. It is a good idea for the educator/facilitator to visit each group and to be prepared to get stuck in – without taking over, which can be challenging. Having materials available on each table, together with photos and visual prompts, also helps to reinforce the expectation that students will produce a built scenario at the end of the activity (Halse, 2013). I always explain to students that the process is just as, or even more, important than the final product. Such prompts can also help when students get stuck on details or find it difficult ‘to make things up.’

5) Make time for sharing and debriefing

Sharing their creations gives students an opportunity to explain their work and take pride in it. Collective debriefs are important to draw out the learning from the activity.

I have conducted this teaching activity several times in different contexts and received much valuable student feedback, which focused not only on this being a more memorable and joyful way of learning together with their peers, but, in addition, students  ‘learned about a new way to think (not just words),’ which speaks directly to the active learning component of this activity. Similarly, comments such as ‘I realised that there are a hundred ways to work’ show how students are opening up their perceptions of what learning entails and how it can be enacted in the classroom.


Braund, P., & Schwittay, A. (2006, May). The missing piece: Human-driven design and research in ICT and development. In 2006 International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (pp. 2-10). IEEE.

Halse, J., (2013.) Ethnographies of the Possible. In W. Gunn, T. Otto & R. C. Smith (Eds.), Design anthropology: Theory and practice (pp. 180-196). Routledge.

James, A., & Brookfield, S.D. (2014.) Engaging imagination: Helping students become creative and reflective thinkers. John Wiley & Sons.

Lyon, P., (2011.) Design education: learning, teaching and researching through design. Routledge.

Schwittay, A. (2021.) Creative Universities: Reimagining Education for Global Challenges and Alternative Futures. Bristol University Press.

Willis, A.M. (2014.) Designing back from the future. Design Philosophy Papers, 12(2), 151-160. https://doi.org/10.2752/144871314X14159818597595

About the Author

Professor Anke Schwittay has been teaching for 15+ years in International Development and Anthropology at universities in the US, New Zealand and UK. This teaching journey has nurtured her interest in creative teaching, which led to the recent publication of a book called Creative Universities: Reimagining Education for Global Challenges and Alternative Futures


1c Blended and Hybrid Curricula


The sandwich model: a supportive framework for blended learning

Fiona Stirling

Illustration of a triangular sandwich, filled with ham, lettuce topped with a tomato and olive skewered at the top on a white plate

What is the idea?

This chapter introduces a supportive framework for blended learning titled ‘the sandwich model’, developed during the delivery of a module for a counselling course. In this approach lecture topics were delivered over two week periods. In week one there was a synchronous lecture where the topic was introduced. Students did not need to prepare anything in advance of this. After this initial introductory session students had one week to engage with the self-directed asynchronous materials and activities that had been provided, which included readings and recorded videos with further information. In week two there were synchronous small group discussions facilitated by staff to consolidate the learning. The ‘sandwich’ in the name therefore comes from the sandwiching of self-directed learning between two variations of staff-directed sessions. Students reported increased confidence and satisfaction with their learning during application of this model.

Why this idea?

When teaching was driven online due to the COVID-19 pandemic many higher education classrooms were ‘flipped’ and ‘blended’ by necessity rather than design. Emerging research indicates the student experience of this was mixed (Boronyak, 2021), with perceptions of a higher workload and feelings of boredom, anxiety, and frustration (Aristovnik et al., 2020). Lai (2021) therefore recommends further thought and discussion on best practice for online learning to improve student interaction and collaboration.

Bates et al. (2017) highlight there is no single model for ‘flipping’ a classroom, only that instruction involves pre-recorded elements over which the learner has control of pace, while synchronous class time is utilised for engaging in collaborative learning and advancing concepts. The self-pacing is what can be of concern to educators due to assumptions that less motivated students will struggle, however it is exactly such an attitude which may be “perpetuating an anti-autonomous attitude for the student” (Bates et al. 2017, p. 7).

Mahalli et al. (2019) suggest the strengths of the flipped classroom model are making students ready to learn in class, and building curiosity for learning. I propose that starting the learning cycle with face-to-face engagement, with no requirement for preparation, urges the same curiosity and sets students ready to learn in a self-directed way online. Shifting from an expectation of ‘pre-class’ to ‘mid-class’ engagement also appears to diminish students perception of an increased workload as it transitions into the realm of homework rather than pre-work.

Jung et al. (2021) propose the key to a successful flipped classroom is engaging student agency to actively participate in learning, which requires self-regulation. Creating a structure which supports development of self-regulation can aid students in successful engagement. The expectation of students to engage with self-directed materials between two face-to-face staff supported points appears to offer a ‘scaffold’ for self-regulation. I take the term ‘scaffold’ from narrative therapy, which attempts to create opportunity for discovery rather than lead clients to specific understandings or ideas. Ramey et al. (2010) explain that the narrative scaffolding approach draws on Vygotsky’s theory of learning, specifically the ‘zone of proximal development’ in which the gap between what is known, and what is possible to know, is bridged through social collaboration. To achieve this requires a breakdown of manageable tasks, “which are structured at first but allow for the gradual progression from collaborative to independent performance” (Ramey et al, 2010, p. 77). The sandwich model permits such progression.

An example in action:

  1. Week one synchronous lecture (the foundation bread): Students are introduced broadly to the concept of discourse by the lecturer.
  2. Self-directed engagement (the sandwich filling): Students are provided with ‘core’ materials to review independently before the next weeks lecture, including a reading about discourse and mental health, and a TED talk on mental health conversations in the media. There are signposts to further optional materials for those who choose to deepen their learning.
  3. Week two synchronous tutorial (the consolidation bread): With support from the lecturer in the form of discussion prompts, students explore scenes from film and TV together, applying their knowledge from the self-directed learning to examine potential social impact and develop understanding of the concept in action.

How could others implement this idea?

This approach may best be considered as a rotation model, of which Staker and Horn (2012) suggest the flipped classroom is a subset. The rotation model sees the student move through a three stage cycle of teacher led instruction, independent work/collaborative activity, and online learning, while the flipped classroom has two steps, an independent preparatory activity (e.g. reading or watching a lecture video), followed by face-to-face instruction in which students can put learning into action or explore topics in-depth. The sandwich model also borrows from elements of Just-in-Time-Teaching, where the ‘feedback loop’ created by lecturers dynamically responding to students completion of pre-set tasks allows the delivery of learning to be responsive to the level of class understanding (Marrs & Novak, 2004). The initial exploratory face-to-face lecture in the sandwich model allows the lecturer to gauge initial knowledge and understanding, and direct the subsequent small group discussions accordingly. Setting the ‘lead’ or dominant mode of engagement (Neumeier, 2005) in this model as face-to-face and synchronous replicates the familiar, ‘traditional’ learning students are used to, while the mode of self-directed online learning being paced over two weeks maintains the “opportunity for the student to build confidence in their education based on their ability to be responsible and autonomous for the information/learning they are seeking” (Bates et al. 2017, p. 7). ‘Sandwiching’ is also a familiar concept to students in itself, in line with the traditional lecture – reading – seminar structure of engagement.

The core principle is simply to provide two points of synchronous engagement between which self-directed learning is sandwiched, a framework which a variety of disciplines can utilise in their own way.

Transferability to different contexts

As highlighted initially, there is no single way to ‘flip’ learning, and many interpretations are likely to have emerged through accelerated experimentations since 2020. This brief outline of the sandwich model will hopefully allow educators in other disciplines to take it forward for application with their own learners, either with the same pattern, or adapting it to suit their own needs. For example, according to the topic or discipline the length assigned between synchronous staff-led delivery points could be extended beyond two weeks to allow additional time for self-directed learning, or perhaps the second synchronous point of engagement could be peer led. As stated, the core principle is simply to provide two points of synchronous engagement between which self-directed learning is sandwiched.


Aristovnik, A., Keržič, D., Ravšelj, D., Tomaževič, N., & Umek, L. (2020). Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on life of higher education students: A global perspective. Sustainability, 12(20), 8438. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12208438

Bates, J. E., Almekdash, H., & Gilchrest-Dunnam, M. J. (2017). The flipped classroom: A brief, brief history. In L. Green, J. Banas, & R. Perkins (Eds.), The flipped college classroom (pp. 3-10). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41855-1_1

Boronyak, A. (2021, July). Student feedback on best practices for flipped classroom Courses in a first-year CAD course. [Paper presentation]. 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, Virtual conference. http://peer.asee.org/37743

Jung, H., Park, S. W., Kim, H. S., & Park, J. (2021). The effects of the regulated learning-supported flipped classroom on student performance. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 20(1) 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijme.2022.100614

Lai, V. K. (2021). Pandemic-driven online teaching—The natural setting for a flipped classroom?. Journal of Biomechanical Engineering, 143(12), 124501. https://doi.org/10.1115/1.4052109

Mahalli, J. N., Mujiyanto, J., & Yuliasri, I. (2019). The implementation of station rotation and flipped classroom models of blended learning in EFL learning. English Language Teaching, 12(12), 23-29. https://doi.org/10.5539/elt.v12n12p23

Marrs, K. A., & Novak, G. (2004). Just-in-time teaching in biology: Creating an active learner classroom using the internet. Cell Biology Education, 3(1), 49-61. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.03-11-0022

Neumeier, P. (2005). A closer look at blended learning — parameters for designing a blended learning environment for language teaching and learning. ReCALL, 17(2), 163-178. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0958344005000224

Ramey, H. L., Young, K., & Tarulli, D. (2010). Scaffolding and concept formation in narrative therapy: A qualitative research report. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 29(4), 74-91. https://doi.org/10.1521/jsyt.2010.29.4.74

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K–12 blended learning. Innosight Institute. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Classifying-K-12-blended-learning.pdf

Image Attributions

Sandwich by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is used under Pixabay Licence

About the Author

Fiona Stirling is a counselling lecturer at Abertay University. As an educator in mental health she is committed to both enhancing the student experience and developing effective, compassionate, and resilient future practitioners by embedding vulnerability, care, and lived experience into her teaching practice.


Active learning journeys: the TREC model

Dr Rod Cullen and Orlagh McCabe

What is the idea?

TREC (Cullen & McCabe, 2021) is a model that was originally developed to help academics in higher education working in any subject discipline, with limited experience of fully online teaching, to design, develop and deliver engaging active learning in “live” online classes. The model has been popular and subsequently adopted for teaching in a range of contexts at all levels.

The model was envisaged as a process that would take students through a structured, four stage active learning journey (see Figure 1).

TREC is a teaching method that embodies an active learning approach, it is important to make this distinction as Armellini & Rodriguez (2021) identify “active learnings core elements are student activity and engagement in the learning process” (Armellini & Rodriguez, 2021, p. 3) both of which are explicit in a TREC journey.

Trigger: Students are presented with a task that requires them to think about, and articulate in some way, what they already know, understand, or believe about a topic, concept, or theme. We feel that an important aspect of the trigger activity is that it places value on the students’ initial knowledge, understanding and lived experiences and it is important that the tutor emphasizes this as part of the activity.

The primary purpose of the trigger is, however, to get the students to articulate a response. This might be as simple as answering a multiple-choice question or something more complex that involves writing down an answer or drawing a picture. The trigger can be completed individually or in small groups. The key thing is that the trigger moves ideas from inside the students head as a tangible output that can be shared with the tutor(s) and other students. For example, in a session introducing the concept of active learning we might ask the students to write down three characteristics of active learning.

Review: Once students have completed the trigger the responses can be shared back to the class as a whole and the contributions can be reviewed with the learners. This provides an opportunity to highlight and discuss common themes and differences in the class responses. This helps to develop shared understanding within the students and again the tutor has the opportunity to emphasize the value and relevance of the student contributions.

Expectations/Evidence Having reviewed the student responses/contributions the tutor can compare the outcomes with pre-prepared expectations and evidence sourced from wider research and literature. For example, where learners have been asked to share three characteristics of active learning, these can be compared and contrasted with characteristics found in formal definitions of active learning from published sources. In this respect there is an opportunity to build upon common themes, explore and re-examine misconceptions and test assumptions in existing sources. In this respect tutors can build confidence in students to challenge their own thinking but also that represented in published work.

Consolidation – Tutors can subsequently challenge learners to reflect more deeply upon their initial understandings. This may involve a follow-up task to consolidate deeper understanding. In the context of our active learning example, learners might be asked to share (in writing or orally) examples of effective active learning they have experienced as either a student or in their own teaching practice.

The TREC model active learning journey is summarised in Figure 1.

TREC model in 4 stages Trigger, Review, Expectations/Evidence and Consolidation. Full description in the main text.
Figure 1. The TREC Model

Why this idea?

The most significant aspect of the higher education sector’s response to the COVID19 pandemic was a rapid shift to fully online teaching. For many academics this was a completely new and daunting prospect. Like most institutions, Manchester Metropolitan University initiated substantial staff development and training opportunities to support academic colleagues in their preparation for this significant change to their teaching practices.

In our staff development and training provision we wanted to provide a large number of colleagues, who were new to teaching online, with a simple learning design approach that would avoid the possibility for learners to disengage or become passive recipients of content in online sessions. Additionally, and of most importance, was the desire to inspire and empower colleagues to design and deliver an active and engaging curriculum. Therefore, the promotion of active learning strategies became an integral feature of the rationale for TREC.

The TREC model emerged from reflections on the session planning process and has become central in facilitating the design and delivery of active learning through which learners construct their own understandings and make meanings about particular events and experiences (Mikalayeva, 2016). In our experience the TREC approach not only embodies this, but ultimately promotes understanding for learners, resulting in increased skills, particularly in terms of being in a position to analyse, evaluate and synthesise their ideas.

There are many benefits to active learning, for example, placing learners at the centre of their learning provides a level of autonomy that many will find empowering which in turn can increase confidence. In addition, developing key skills by engaging with interactive resources (such as case studies and problem-based learning) can contribute towards the development of useful transferable skills (Rands & Gansemer-Topf, 2017).

How could others implement this idea?

The TREC model provides a framework for any academic practitioner to design active learning into their provision. In a staff development and training context we have found that it can be valuable in helping academics to review traditional presentation style delivery and look for opportunities to turn presentation content into activities. In this respect, we encourage academics to seek out aspects of lectures where they present data, lists, definitions, or aspects where opinions are split and to rework these as triggers and/or evidence within the TREC model.

For example, a traditional lecture might start by presenting students with a definition or range of definitions for a particular concept and then go on to explore this further. A TREC activity would start with a “trigger” that might ask learners (working individually or in small groups) to come up with their own definition of the concept based on what they already know. Students might share their own definitions in writing in a live online session via a chat tool or a collaborative digital whiteboard (we often use something like Padlet for this). When students’ have responded to the trigger the tutor can “review” the range of definitions the students have contributed, exploring similarities and differences, and working towards a shared understanding. The tutor can then make comparisons between the student generated definitions and formal definitions, which we refer to as “Evidence” provided in the literature. Subsequently, having captured digitally (via chat or Padlet) the participant input we might challenge the students to consolidate their learning by refining their own initial definitions of the concept.

Transferability to different contexts

The TREC model was originally conceived in the context of delivering “live” fully online sessions through tools like MS Teams, Zoom and Adobe Connect. However, it has broader applications than this. In relation to online learning the model could be extended beyond the confines of “live” teaching situations. In this respect the “trigger” could be brought forward to provide a pre-session activity, with instructions and submission via a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or collaborative platform such as MS Teams. Review and Evidence/Expectations stages would be undertaken in the live session. Furthermore, consolidation activities could be undertaken as independent or collaborative follow-up activities also via the VLE or collaborative platform. In this way we might imagine bridging between live sessions with follow-up and preparation activities as summarized in Figure 2.

Image showing extended TREC model with Trigger stage brought forward as an advanced online prep activity and Consolidation stage pushed into an online follow-up activity providing a means of bridging between live teaching sessions.
Figure 2. Extending TREC beyond live sessions

The successful uptake of staff choosing to embed the TREC model in their practice could be attributed to its simplicity, something which we feel has been attractive to colleagues who are often dealing with a number of competing priorities. In addition, the model provides versatility in the sense that it can be used in online, face to face and hybrid situations, and is useful in the planning and design of sessions at all levels.


Armellini, A., & Padilla Rodriguez, B.C.,(2021). Active blended learning: Definition, literature review, and a framework for implementation. In A. Armellini & B. C. Padilla Rodriguez (Eds.). Cases on Active Blended Learning in Higher Education (pp. 1-22). IGI Global.

Cullen, W., R. & McCabe, O., (2021, April 25). The TREC approach to Active Learning. Media and Learning Association. https://media-and-learning.eu/type/featured-articles/the-trec-approach-to-active-learning/

Mikalayeva, L., (2016). Motivation, ownership, and the role of the instructor in active learning. International Studies Perspectives, 17(2), 214–229. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44218816 

Rands, M.L., & Gansemer-Topf, A.M. (2017). The room itself is active: How classroom design impacts student engagement. Journal of Learning Spaces, 6(1), 26-33.

Image Attributions

Figure 1. The TREC Model by Rod Cullen and Orlagh McCabe is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 2. The extended TREC Model by Rod Cullen and Orlagh McCabe is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Authors

Dr Rod Cullen is Senior Lecturer in Learning and Teaching Technologies and became a Principal Fellow of Advance HE in Jan 2022. He has over 20 years’ experience of online and blended learning with a long standing interest in interactive classroom technologies.  In recent years, his work has focused on advising and supporting teaching colleagues who have not previously taught online and for this he has developed some simple but effective approaches to designing active learning.

Orlagh McCabe is a senior lecturer in Academic Development at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is programme leader for the PGCLTHE in the University Teaching Academy and became a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in March 2019.


Unified Active Learning: models for inclusive hybrid learning

Dr Andrew Middleton

What is the idea?

Anglia Ruskin University’s Unified Active Learning (UAL) adoption framework was designed to inspire academics to think innovatively about incorporating active pedagogies.

UAL is a hybrid design model composed of a set of design principles, an evaluation framework, and four high-level models. Consequently, it reveals a multitude of possibilities for active, inclusive and collaborative learning. The four models are discussed here: blended bubbles; location neutral; hives and observers; and connected co-creators. Specific example pedagogies are outlined for each.

Why this idea?

UAL was devised by the University’s Active Inclusive & Collaborative Learning (AI&CL) task group in response to the 2020-21 pandemic to ensure all students, wherever they were co-located, could engage in learning together. The framework presents an accessible connected classroom approach intended to stimulate and support all students in uncertain times.

However, UAL was intended to be a sustainable framework. We wanted sustainable design to avoid wasted energy and imagination, and avoiding the danger of ‘falling back’ (Bryant, 2021) to delivery-based teaching. In effect, we were aware that the need for change in response to a crisis should align to the hard-won commitment made the previous year by the academic community across the university when our Active Curriculum Framework was introduced (Middleton et al., 2021). Indeed, it became clear that an active learning strategy brought many advantages to the situation: our staff understood the rationale for designing a liberating student-centred learning experience. Changing tack would have sent a confusing message and undermined curriculum quality for years. The UAL framework signalled our positive intention to build upon what we had recently achieved, therefore.

How could others implement this idea?

A design and evaluation framework

UAL is a hybrid curriculum design framework structured around the following principles:

  1. Active and collaborative engagement around stimulating content
  2. Unified experience that involves all students learning together
  3. A whole student experience that fosters belonging and becoming
  4. Inclusive, diverse and socially balanced

The design principles allow academics to make design decisions based on the essential values underpinning active learning.

At ARU, our Canvas learning management system is widely used, however, staff have not consistently used it as a space in which to engage students through synchronous learning activities. Like other VLEs, it predominantly reflects an organisational, rather than pedagogical, paradigm. Creating a rich, collaborative online learning experience was a new challenge for many staff. However, the pandemic forced many students into isolation and staff needed to be guided towards involving their students as members of productive and supportive learning communities. Uneven digital fluency in staff and students emerged and we were aware that feelings of technological inadequacy can obstruct creative people-centred design thinking.

The UAL Framework prompts academics to evaluate their hybrid practice and pinpoint areas for development. It does this by setting out three dimensions using a positive tone that suggests most academics will already understand the implicit values and, to some extent, see their practice in all of the dimensions.

The first dimension, labelled ‘Identity’, reflects the essential idea that being on a course should feel like being part of something. The other two dimensions extend this to reflect a course experience that is active, inclusive and collaborative by design. As academics reflect on and think about developing their practice, the framework proposes that the third dimension, ‘Commitment’, will increasingly reflect their norm.

The framework is presented as follows:

In their formal engagement, all of my students, however and wherever they access their learning, normally:

1. Identity Learn alongside each other, being aware of each other and their common purpose, having a strong association with their course and feeling a strong sense of being part of something.
2. Connection Learn through regular interactions in their connected class and through formative and summative group work in which they have a clear and equal role. They learn from their different perspectives, regularly working as supportive teams.
3. Commitment Value each other, coming to refer to each other habitually in all that they do as co-producers of knowledge and co-creators of their learning experience.

Application models

With the principles in mind, development work proposed four overarching UAL models. They are reproduced here with some example activities to illustrate the model. In reality staff came up with their own responses, however.

Location neutral model

Learner location need not be a factor that unduly affects the learning experience or outcomes: the session design or activity engages all students equally, whether they are on campus or online.


Voting Polling of opinions or voting for decision-based learning is a common approach to involving students in thinking about topics. Being asked to make a decision can involve the application of knowledge or it can surface assumptions and questions that lead to further investigation.
Co-writing Accessing, writing and editing a shared document (see Co-writing chapter)
Chat-based games Using embedded apps such as polling, whiteboards and third-party tools.

Hives & Observers model

A core co-located classroom group has an active synchronous role (‘hive’ group). They are observed by students located remotely, either off campus or clustered in other rooms or sites.

Both the hive and observer groups have a valuable role in the same synchronous activity by being assigned different roles. Assigning roles or attitudes can underpin a range of interactive pedagogies. Example roles can include: ‘players’, ‘operators’, ‘experimenters’, ‘performers’, ‘reviewers’, ‘monitors’, ‘directors’, ‘agitators’, ‘advocates’, ‘observers’, ‘commentators’, ‘reporters’, ‘coaches’, ‘scorers’, ‘game changers’, etc. Roles can instil a degree of safety as students develop their voice and identity. Nevertheless, both the co-located and the dispersed online students learn in a mutually beneficial, interdependent relationship.


Crowd in the Cloud Goldfish bowl conversational challenges are not new. Here, hive members undertake a task, e.g. discuss the pros and cons of a situation. Observers note and challenge key points.
Puppet role play Establish a scenario and run it, inviting onlookers to ‘fill in the blanks’ to set parameters and define variables that affect outcomes or ‘put words in the mouths’ of in-class actors to enrich the scenario.
Connected labs The approach gives the onlookers a degree of control over their running of classroom-based activities through the setting of variables and conditions. The idea of ‘lab’ can be broadly applied, being essentially the running of a process e.g. scientific experiments, role plays, discussions. The Observers take responsibility for recording and comparing outcomes, making notes, and providing feedback to the in-class participants.
Home and away debates A lot can be learnt about teamwork by all students when one group can collaborate while the other students can’t. For example, when used with care, the dynamics of a debate in which co-located students are pitched against dispersed students can be illuminating. Ground rules for each can be devised, e.g. online students can Google information, on campus ‘hive’ students can’t and must draw what they know.

Blended Bubbles group formation model

Co-located students are partnered with dispersed student peers (‘bubbles’). They work together both in real-time and asynchronously on problems, addressing scenarios, researching texts or ‘Google Jockeying’ (EDUCAUSE, 2006) data and images.

Triads Create problem or scenario-based learning challenges. Establish mixed groups of three made up of a: ‘Co-ordinator’ who has responsibility for chairing, keeping the group on task, and summarising the groupwork; ‘Questioner’ who seeks clarification, challenges assumptions, and asks “What if…?”; and ‘Observer’ who observes, records and writes up what the group did and found out. Consider which role works best online and whether you should rotate roles from time-to-time.
Digital collaging Group members assemble a multiple media portfolio in response to a topic-based challenge. Each person in the group is given responsibility for researching the topic by searching for a specific media-type: numeric data, quotations, images, music, video, podcast, for example. After the allotted search time, students analyse the assets and compile an immersive media collage or digital story.
Project-based learning Student team members have agreed (either assigned or negotiated) roles with clear responsibilities. To be successful, interdependencies between those roles need to be explicit along with co-working tasks. Within their teams, students can be advised to break down into pairs to support each other in tackling dimensions of the team project, with one student being online and the other on campus.
Resource building using Google Jockeying and commentaries Online students can scout for relevant information and develop commentaries. On campus students can do the physical lifting! In the case of Nursing students, this was literally the case at ARU. Together, they can create video skills-based resources by capturing activities in Teams or Zoom and creating commentaries for them.

Connected Co-creators model

All participants are engaged as a community of co-creators taking part in research-led or inquiry-based learning. Any individual or group can be charged with researching a topic between sessions with the expectation that what they discover will be used in session either as the basis for their own learning (e.g. application of case studies) or as part of a programme of student mini-lectures or the co-construction of a wiki resource.


Co-writing Accessing, writing and editing a shared document. (see Co-writing chapter)
Group digital poster or recipe book Each student group creates a structured presentation using PowerPoint. In the case of a recipe book, it backgrounds and presents a process useful to a relevant real-world practitioner. Optionally, the group’s poster presentation or recipe is developed as a screencast (captured as a video presentation) in which all group members build upon the presented information together. Key to the task is the flow of the presentation; how each dimension relates to the slides that preceded it and how it then connects to what follows. This in-presentation connectivity ensures collaboration amongst group members is needed and ensures marks can be assigned for evidence of this flow.

Transferability to different contexts

The examples given above indicate some of the many possibilities that can be developed to engage students actively, together, wherever they are located. In this way, activity can take advantage of the apparent dislocation of students as they enact a connected classroom philosophy.

As a principle-based approach, the framework removes a sense of prescription and encourages creative thinking about how to adapt to specific curriculum contexts.


Bryant, P. (2021, January 12). The snapback. https://peterbryant.smegradio.com/the-snapback/.

Educause. (2006). 7 things you should know about Google Jockeying.  https://library.educause.edu/resources/2006/5/7-things-you-should-know-about-google-jockeying

Middleton, A., Pratt-Adams, S., & Priddle, J. (2021, March). Active, inclusive and immersive: Using course design intensives with course teams to rethink the curriculum across an institution. Educational Developments, 22(1), 9-13.

About the Author

Andrew Middleton is a National Teaching Fellow committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.


2 Inclusive Communities

Small blue butterflies
Small blue butterflies

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together

~ Malcolm Forbes






Image Attribution

Small blue butterflies, by Paolo Oprandi, is used under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Introduction to Inclusive Communities

Isobel Gowers and Matt Parkman

There is increasing importance placed on developing inclusive communities within higher education institutions (Smith et al., 2020; Williams et al., 2020) for several reasons. Feeling part of a community and a sense of belonging aids both learning and retention. Through communities, peer learning develops, as well as a social network that allows students to support one another. Diversity within the student population, as well as a history of those from under-represented groups not achieving the same outcomes as others has been a driver to develop more inclusive communities. The chapters within this section provide a range of active learning ideas that will create and strengthen inclusive communities. There is a focus on supporting international students but the ideas provided will help improve the learning and sense of belonging of all students.

Inclusive Practice

Zhuo Li looks at activities to encourage Chinese students to get involved in discussions. Empowering the students to get the most out of their learning by joining in verbal discussions whilst recognising that an expectation of their culture is for them to be reserved and quiet. The opposite take on this is provided by Spowart, who provides an idea at using discussions via writing rather than verbally to ensure that all students have a chance to participate, even if they are quiet and do not like to talk in class. It is suggested that these silent discussions can work well in both face to face and online environments.

Of course many discussions that students have will require them to gain a consensus and Tzoumaka provides an idea where students need to gain consensus whilst maintaining mutual respect. She highlights the importance of this skill for team work and collaborative work and undoubtedly this is an important skill for the workplace. As well as the skills needed for collaborative work, scaffolding of student learning is important for allowing students to develop agency in their learning and this is the idea explored by Harvey. Agency can empower students to feel included. Students can often find active learning challenging and scaffolding is invaluable for allowing students to develop their own ideas, which often reflects their own experiences and culture rather than lecturers prescribing their ideas.

Moving away from just using activities that ensure students are included in the learning, Kyparissiadis goes beyond that and uses active learning to encourage empathy by challenging students to walk in the shoes of others. The example given is from advertising but this activity could be related to how we see individuals from our own and other disciplines. The activity can encourage empathy but also provides students with an awareness of inclusivity that will be invaluable as a graduate. Taking a different approach Hancock looks at using a problem based learning approach using student characters to help develop an understanding of support and guidance a student needs through transitions in their education. Although this example is focused on an educational setting, it could be amended to problems that occur in a variety of different settings.

Building Communities

Wilson-Crane provides an idea to support international students building networks through interdisciplinary active learning. By working together to apply knowledge and create some point of collaborative output allows the students to build a network with students across different subjects as well as between undergraduate and postgraduate students. This working together helps students to feel part of the wider university community.

Trivedy takes a different approach to developing a sense of community and that is using Microsoft Teams to develop a community of practice, social and collaborative space. This chapter provides details on how to scaffold the development of the community, to encourage students to share their successes, knowledge and also their challenges removing that sense of isolation.

In the idea from Trela and Rutschmann an activity using mind mapping to build a peer learning community highlights how important developing trust and building a community allows active learning to flourish. Rather than just expecting peers to be able to trust and support each other in their learning, this idea presents something that both encourages exploration of content knowledge but in parallel starts to build a community that will allow peer learning to develop effectively.

Empowering Learners

Here, we will focus on the process of democratising the learning process. Ensuring that learners are involved in the learning process from end to end is a sure way to drive engagement.

Finn explores the idea of learners selecting their own paths to enlightenment, taking the flipped learning approach and empowering students to apply this to administrative aspects of education, such as curriculum unit selection. Fin further explores the interpersonal benefits of encouraging learners to take ownership of their learning journey, as well as highlighting the benefits to teaching teams.

Pedersen shares a practical approach, aiding in the development of a learners Zone of Proximal Development, encouraging learners to learn most actively, through the creation of their own materials. This section explores the benefits of creation, including increased confidence, self-efficacy, and resource banks within learner groups.

Steinberg focuses on a more pastoral approach, incorporating personal experiences into the learning experience. This idea explores the advantages of reflection, timeline production and critical evaluation of a learner’s understanding and expectations on any given project. This section provides further application of a highly adaptable concept.

Wellbeing, Humour and Mindfulness

This section focuses on wellbeing in both teacher and learner communities, achieved through mindfulness, preparedness techniques. There is further distinction on the role of humour and humility when facilitating active learning.

Johnston explores the role of fear and how this can be positively met with humour as a pedagogical tool, enabling learners to reflect positively on learning experiences, and innovatively relieve stress and anxiety often associated with presentation delivery.

Edwards-Smith considers the impact of mindfulness of active learning, demonstrating how embracing the moment can allow learners to develop their critical thinking skills, with open minds in safe environments. This section provides practical steps to facilitating mindfulness in learner environments, well supported with literature.


In summary, although this section on inclusive communities is built up of three parts, it is very hard to disentangle the content within. For example, peer learning occurs best when a community has developed with the participants trusting and respecting each other. To develop a community you need to ensure that all participants are included. And finally learning will not happen if students are stressed. This means that the ideas from the chapters in this section not only provide some excellent stand alone ideas but can also be used as a mix and match to promote an exciting inclusive community.


Smith, S., Pickford, R., Sellers, R., Priestley, J., Edwards, L. & Sinclair, G. (2020). Building a sense of belonging in students: Using a participatory approach with staff to share academic practice. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 9(1), 44-53. https://doi.org/10.14297/jpaap.v9i1.448

Williams, S.A.S., Hanssen, D. V., Rinke. C. R., & Kinlaw, C. R. (2020). Promoting race pedagogy in higher education: Creating an inclusive community. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 30(3), 369-393. https://doi.org/10.1080/10474412.2019.1669451

About the Authors

Throughout Dr Isobel Gowers’ teaching career, she has been interested in active learning. Initially using techniques such as problem based learning in her teaching but gradually increasing her repertoire of active learning methods. After 10 years as a lecturer Isobel shifted to educational management and currently works to promote active learning at ARU.

Matt Parkman is an Instructional Designer who aims to create fun and interactive educational content, with the learner at heart. He found himself drawn to learning technology and instructional design to create content learners wanted to engage with, rather than feeling they had to.


2a Inclusive Practice


Using formative assessment to activate Chinese 'quiet students' in English learning

Zhuo Li

What is the idea?

Attracted by the global marketplace, universities in western countries have been recruiting international students at an unprecedented speed, and Chinese students have made up the largest percentage compared to students of other nationalities. Many Chinese students are quiet and reserved in academic discussion, which can be a challenge for those teachers who are familiar with using participative teaching methods. This short chapter explores the use of formative assessments within a Chinese university context to activate quiet students.

Why this idea?

Before exploring effective ways to activate quiet students, it is necessary to know the factors that cause Chinese students’ reservations to participate in class.

Students’ willingness to communicate is closely affected by their country’s culture.

To many Chinese, the concept that “quiet is golden” serves as armour to protect them from troubles. Furthermore, because of the Confucian teaching tradition, many Chinese students are afraid to ask teachers questions because it is perceived as a challenge to the teachers’ authority. They believe that remaining silent and occupied with taking notes in class is the best approach to being a good student.


Language proficiency also hinders Chinese students’ willingness to communicate.

The second reason that Chinese students remain quiet in class is a lack of language proficiency.

Because they are scared to make mistakes, most Chinese students with inferior proficiency avoid losing face by staying mute. This is considerably worse in Western colleges where Chinese students are surrounded by fluent English speakers. They undergo both culture shock and teaching-culture shock, which further disincentives them from contributing.

Many shy students are still motivated

Apart from the two previously mentioned qualities, the third group of silent students are introverted. They keep quiet merely because they are too shy to participate. When this group of students’ instrumental motivation is triggered, they can modify themselves actively in learning. They will, for example, open their mouths and raise their hands if they believe they would benefit from, say, a high grade for their active performances. As a result, a clear assessment checklist requiring class involvement and interaction may assist drive individuals to participate in classroom learning.

Formative evaluation can bring numerous benefits for breaking the quiet class phenomena.

Meidasari (2015) states that the main reason for assessment is to “inform teaching and to promote and encourage learning—to promote optimal individual growth” (p. 228). With carefully considered assessment objectives, students have a clearer idea of what they are required to learn and what they need to improve. In turn, in-class assessments allow teachers to get data about the students’ performance so that they can adapt their teaching to meet their students’ needs. Topping (2009) gives a more specific perspective that peer assessment can improve students’ writing, and group work and can save teachers’ time. Sejdiu (2014) also demonstrated that “peer assessment is important in settings where there are many students to a single tutor” (p. 71).

In this chapter, I will use my English teaching in mainland China as a case.

How could others implement this idea?

This practice was carried out in the module  College English, which aims at improving university students’ English proficiency. Forms of formative assessments I employ are peer assessment (included 25% assessments from peer group assessors and 20% from inner group members), web-aided assessment (25%) and teacher assessment (emphasise in feedback, 30%).

Peer assessment

Students are divided into groups. Putting them into friendship groups can encourage shy students to communicate.

Assignment tasks are delivered before class to guarantee students are well prepared. This step can release their anxiety and make sure they can understand what group members are talking about and allow them to respond quickly and properly.

Assignments are varied and might include article analysis, background information discussion, debate, interview, role-play, and so on.

Peer assessment is introduced and its importance is explained to students before class.

Though it has many gains, students (peer assessors) should be trained before giving an assessment. Topping (2009). provides some methods to this training. For example, “show them how to do’, “provide training, examples, and practice”, “and specify activities and timescale” (pp. 25-26). Practically, it takes around 15 minutes to train students. During the process of peer assessment, teachers act as an organiser to steer it in the right direction.

Peer assessment should cover speaking and writing. Usually, I will invite one student (randomly) to report their group’s assessment. The other group members need to hand in their own paper assessment individually.

Content, creativity and cooperation should take priority over pronunciation. Though students have the same academic background, their English proficiency is varied. The students who come from Chinese urban cities are better than those that come from rural areas. Some students have prepared very well before class, but fail to get a high score from peer assessment due to their strong accent which makes them hard to understand. This factor is the biggest reason to prevent students’ participation. For this reason, details in the checklist of peer assessment must emphasise content, creativity, and cooperation.


Peer assessment checklist

Peer group (25%)

Student A :
Assessor 1 :  (in order to make the assessment reliable, only teacher can see assessor’s name)
Information points(40%)
Quick comment
Total score
Table 1

Inner group (20%)

Student A:
Assessor 1 :  (in order to make the assessment reliable, only  the teacher can see  the assessor‘s name)


Contribution (50%)
Cooperation (50%)
Quick comment
Total score
Table 2

Web-aided assessment

Peer assessment aroused students’ willingness to communicate, but it is time-consuming and subjective. There are many MOOC websites and apps that can complement and fulfil an overall and objective assessment. For examples WeLearn, Unipus, wechat group, Rainclassroom, and on. These websites and apps record students’ performance in e-learning and communication, score on many specific items individually, give personal feedback and provide reliable data to teachers for follow-up instruction. It’s extremely necessary for teachers to remind students that all performances are recorded by showing statistics in web-aid assessment, which can further increase students’ involvement in active learning.

Teachers’ assessment

Teachers’ authority in my practice has decreased in comparison to traditional exam-based summative assessment. However, teachers’ assessments continue to have the highest ratio among the three types of formative assessment, which can reassure students that they are active learning under strict supervision rather than solely self-study. Teachers should provide specific and supportive feedback regardless of the assessment. It can be a summary of the student’s performance, a guide to the next chapter of the student’s study, or simply a correction to the student’s understanding. With the changes mentioned above, formative assessment has proven to be beneficial to both my teaching and the students’ active learning.

Transferability to different contexts

Although this practice is commonly used in Chinese English-learning classrooms, it can be applied in almost any context with Chinese or introverted students. I would recommend teachers in stages:

Peer assessment

Invite different students to represent their groups in the final assessment so that those with higher language proficiency do not dominate the speaking activity.

When students disagree, teachers can step in. Teachers can also intervene when students speak Chinese in class rather than English.
Leaders of groups are crucial. They should be well-organised, friendly, helpful, and skilled at steering the conversation.
Rubrics for assessments should prioritise content over pronunciation or intonation.


Language assistance should be provided by teachers. Teachers should speak standard English at a slow pace and correct students’ sentence structure errors.

Teachers should offer emotional support to their students. Using words such as “wonderful, creative thinking, perfect” can boost students’ confidence and encourage them to communicate.

Links to tools and resources


Meidasari, V. E. (2015). The assessment and evaluation in teaching English as a foreign language. Indonesian EFL. Journal, 1(2), 224-231. https://doi.org/10.25134/ieflj.v1i2.629

Sejdiu, S. (2014). English language teaching and assessment in blended learning. Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, 3(2), 67-82. https://doi.org/10.14434/jotlt.v3n2.5043

Topping, K. J. (2009). Peer assessment. Theory into Practice, 48(1), 20-27. https://doi.org/10.1080/00405840802577569

About the Author

Zhuo Li  is a lecturer at the Guangdong University of Technology, with a background in TESOL. She has translated several books and published articles about motivating Chinese students to communicate in English learning. She has delivered English courses for Chinese postgraduate students, as well as undergraduates, who major in Technology. Her research interests focus on peer assessment and students’ willingness to communicate.



Silence is golden: using silent discussions to promote inclusivity and critical thinking

Dr Lucy Spowart

Photo of shushing girl

What is the idea?

Whether online or in the classroom, a discussion is typically thought of as being a verbal dialogue between two or more individuals. In a silent discussion all verbal communication is banned and written communication is deliberately privileged. Learners are asked to respond in writing to a particular question, statement or image, whilst maintaining complete silence. The facilitator specifies the time the silence needs to be maintained.

Whilst learners respond individually, as the number of responses increases, a dialogue develops. Where learners don’t understand a comment or want more information, they are encouraged to convey this in writing.

Why this idea?

Whilst active learning is known to promote deep learning (Exley & Dennick, 2009), many active learning approaches require students to engage in verbal discussions. Quieter, more introverted individuals can be marginalised in such activities as can students from countries where silence plays a significant cultural role (Frambach, Driessen, Beh & van der Vleuten, 2014; Lees, 2013). Worse still, silence can be associated with a deliberate lack of engagement, disobedience or conflict (Granger, 2004; Hanh, 2020). However, there may be a plethora of reasons underlying student silence including: insufficient time to digest information; a fear of making mistakes and being judged; language competence; demotivation; inappropriate teaching methods and a lack of confidence (Delima, 2012; Hanh, 2020).

Using silence as a pedagogical tool has a number of potential advantages:

1) Students can participate simultaneously thus promoting more democratic forms of interaction, preventing a situation where louder voices dominate;

2) Silent activities can promote inclusion by catering for different learner needs;

3) Anxieties frequently associated with contributing verbally may be reduced;

4) Individuals are encouraged to actively reflect BEFORE responding thus promoting critical reflection;

5) Emotive or contentious issues that may give rise to strong opinions are well suited to this activity;

6) Silent discussions are highly flexible being suited to both small and large class sizes. A class of up to 100 could undertake this activity by moving in small groups silently between discussion boards (Trust me, they can!).

How could others implement this idea?

The discussion can be structured in different ways, depending on class size, and whether delivered online (e.g. using tools like a MiroBoard) or in a classroom using flipchart paper, whiteboards or writing walls. When working with large classes (~100) in big spaces such as lecture theatres, the teacher should prepare enough ‘discussion boards’ to keep group sizes manageable (< 8). This ensures that each individual has the space to contribute to the discussion.

The activity typically has a number of steps:

1. Choose a topic to debate and discuss. This could be a question, as illustrated in the picture below, a statement, a problem or an image. Prepare your discussion board (or boards if you have several groups working simultaneously)

2. Establish the ground-rules – for the activity to work the silence must be maintained.

3. Allow time to think – Once each group is at their discussion board give time (typically 2 minutes but it depends on the complexity of the topic) to read/observe in silence, digest and think.

4. Respond and interact – Learners then respond by writing their thoughts or questions about the topic and sharing their thinking. This can be done by providing pens to write on white-boards/walls or by using post-it notes (as below). As more learners post their thoughts they should be encouraged to respond to each other with further written comments.

Writing on white-boards/walls and using post-it notes

5. Reflect – The silence is broken and the teacher facilitates a whole class discussion. A skilful facilitator can draw together the key points and encourage further critical reflection on the content and the process. The intention is NOT to judge or assess individual contributions, but to draw together the key emerging themes and/or clarify any questions or misunderstandings. This final step could also involve an additional written reflective element.

Transferability to different contexts

This activity can be adapted to a range of different disciplines and contexts. However, since the spoken word is frequently privileged, it is important to ensure that instructions are clear and that learners understand and ‘buy-in to’ the underpinning rationale. When using the activity for the first time it is advisable to start with small groups and to work in silence for short lengths of time. Involving additional facilitators can help to maintain the silence and concentration required. As learners and facilitators become more accustomed to the activity, group size, and the length of time the silence is to be maintained, can increase. To suit different spaces, the discussion boards can be moved/shared between groups rather than the groups circulating.

To further promote inclusivity (catering for the needs of dyslexic students, for example) the topics/questions/images on the discussion boards could be shared in advance of the session adopting a flipped classroom approach (Al-Samarraie et al., 2020) to the task. Similarly, a MiroBoard may be made available for a designated period of time before and/or after the facilitated session.

Links to tools and resources


Al-Samarraie, H., Shamsuddin, A., & Alzahrani, A. I. (2020). A flipped classroom model in higher education: a review of the evidence across disciplines. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 1017-1051. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09718-8

Delima, E. M. (2012). A reticent student in the classroom: A consequence of the art of questioning. Asian EFL Journal, 60, 51-69.

Exley, K., & Dennick, R. (2009). Giving a lecture: from presenting to teaching (2nd ed.). Routledge Falmer.

Frambach, J. M., Driessen, E. W., Beh, P., & van der Vleuten, C. P. M. (2014). Quiet or questioning? Students’ discussion behaviors in student-centered education across cultures. Studies in Higher Education, 39(6), 1001-1021. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09718-8

Granger, C. A. (2004). Silence in second language learning: A psychoanalytic reading. Multilingual Matters.

Hanh, N. T. (2020). Silence is gold?: A study on students’ silence in EFL classrooms. International Journal of Higher Education, 9(4), 153-160. https://doi.org/10.5430/ijhe.v9n4p153

Lees, H. (2013, August 22). Silence as a pedagogical tool. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/comment/opinion/silence-as-a-pedagogical-tool/2006621.article

Image Attributions

Shushing girl by philm1310 from Pixabay.

Post-it notes on whiteboard by Lucy Spowart is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Author

Dr Lucy Spowart is committed to raising professional standards and promoting the interests of marginalised groups. She was awarded Principal Fellowship in 2018 and a National Teaching Fellowship in 2020. She draws on coaching and mentoring techniques to promote greater self-belief.


To agree or not to agree? Working towards consensus under conditions of mutual respect

Dr Eugenia Tzoumaka

Group of people playing musical instruments
Figure 1: Group of people playing musical instruments

What is the idea?

Echoing the thoughts of Volk (2019) on the ways democratic engagement can be developed during academic studies, as well as the current trends in employability, this chapter presents an active learning idea that cultivates the ability of students to work towards consensus under conditions of mutual respect.

This exercise is ideal for, but not limited to courses where group work is moderately or heavily incorporated, i.e. a term group-project, or group participation in a simulation game.

The idea builds on the rationale of the traditional team-building scenarios, the purpose of which is to develop collaborative skills, but in the proposed activity the focus is on whether consensus has been reached and whether mutual respect has been maintained.

Why this idea?

The present idea is linked with two important objectives that are beneficial for students: the acquisition of soft skills relevant to their employability, and the democratic skills. Such skills enhance students’ ability to argue, debate and reach consensus in a mutually respectful manner that is characterised by care, community and trust (Lloyd, 2008).

A dominant view of employability is the one that focuses on the skills potential employees attain, with the “soft” skills, i.e. teamwork, communication, etc. becoming increasingly prioritised by both employers and university students (Andrews & Higson, 2008; Kyrousi et al., 2022; Ritter et al., 2018). Moreover, universities are urged to cultivate “skills of political deliberation” that will allow current students and future citizens to at least understand the difference between democracy and authoritarianism or illiberalism and be able to preserve it (Volk, 2019).

For this chapter, respect and consensus are defined as follows. Respect denotes the treating of a person as equal “regardless of [their] social position, individual characteristics or achievements, or moral merit” (Dillon, 2018). In the classroom environment, mutual respect could translate as (a) the student body valuing all its members, (b) being considerate of their feelings, and thus (c) not making fun of any member (Patrick, Ryan,& Kaplan, 2007). Consensus, is one of the two alternatives for reaching an agreement, with the second being the compromise, namely consenting to a decision without actually agreeing or endorsing the outcome. Consensus, contrarily to compromise, “is a situation where the agents adopt the final outcome as their own position on the matter in question”, they internalise because of a fruitful argumentation (Martini, Sprenger, & Colyvan, 2013, p. 881).

How could others implement this idea?

The idea under discussion was aimed at the students of a Level 5 validated course in Sports Marketing, the first assessment of which, bearing 60% of the final grade, includes a group project, namely a live-assessment marketing plan and a group presentation. The self-selected or else assigned team might comprise up to four students.

It is clear that working in groups, negotiating, communicating and reaching consensus for a good number of disagreements that arise, while simultaneously maintaining mutual respect has proved very challenging for students. The instructors rarely get a formal notification on those challenges, because the group work on the project is mostly not visible to them either; they mostly lack hard evidence regarding conflict and disrespect. They shall thus look for ex ante cues and be able to distinguish between group work challenges (the four stages of team creation) and indications of disrespect. Students might not explicitly “accuse each other” in discussions with their instructors, but they may (1) show lack of intimacy or close relationships as a group, (2) approach the instructor individually, for questions and inquiries, (3) deliver poor quality work in formative assessments, and/ or (4) exhibit confusion regarding the guidelines, the roles within the team, etc. Those shall be interpreted with caution, still cannot be definitive cues.

The idea relies on creating opportunities for visible group work, employing a modified version of the classic survival game, which remains a seminal team building game, due to its simplicity and appeal. A workshop on the assessment is organised, in which the instructor briefly presents the assessment topic and guidelines, the group work requirements and the concepts of respect and consensus. Then the workshop concludes with the active learning activity described below:

The participants are split into groups of maximum four (4) members and each group is given a scenario, an imagined situation, where they are lost and they need to work as a team in order to survive (For more see the resources).

They are then given 15 to 25 minutes to (a) choose 5 out of 21 items within a list, or (b) list 12 items in order of importance for their team to survive (for more see the examples of scenarios). In any case, only the five top choices are scored.

The students need to first note down what they would decide if this was their individual decision, the items that they would select.

They then engage into a discussion with their peers, which shall conclude to the final group decision, and note the items that the group will select.

After the time expires, the instructor will ask the groups to present in-class explaining their final decision and the reasons why this was the best decision.

The students will then be provided the answer sheet, with the awarded points for each item. They will be given 5 minutes to award points to each team’s top five choices according to the numbers and calculate their individual and group score. The lowest score wins (and survives).

Each individual will then be given up to two minutes to reflect on the following: “Was the group score higher than their individual score and why?”

During this exercise the instructors need to go native, explore student aptitudes and attitudes and reflect on those after it is finished. The instructors shall use the activity as the departure point to introduce the students to the key concepts, i.e.consensus versus compromisation. While discussing the outcome of the game students understand if they consented or compromised with the group decisions and are challenged to reflect on what they could do differently. What shall be also discussed is the concept of respect. Did they act respectfully while arguing? What was not respectful? How do we show respect?

Transferability to different contexts

The current idea emphasises students’ ability to work towards consensus under conditions of mutual respect. To do so, a modified version of the classic survival game was employed within a Level 5 Sports Marketing course. This was the students’ first marketing course, which translates to very limited marketing knowledge and minimum experience in group work.

The idea can be applied within any disciplinary context that requires group work, because the scenario is not tied to a given scientific field. It may be useful both at the undergraduate and graduate level, because the group interaction differentiates the outcome. So even if the players know the rationale of the game, the questions posed will challenge them into different avenues. Finally, while face-to-face interaction is optimal, the activity could be exercised online, through break out rooms, but it is expected that in the latter mode part of the interaction might be missed out on by the instructor.

Links to tools and resources

Examples of scenarios to be used as in-class exercises:


Andrews, J. & Higson, H. (2008). Graduate Employability. ‘Soft Skills’ Versus ‘Hard’. Business Knowledge: A European Study. Higher Education in Europe, 33(4), 411-422. https://doi.org/10.1080/03797720802522627

Dillon, R. S. (2018). Respect. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in Zalta E.N. (ed.). https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/respect/

Kyrousi, A.G., Tzoumaka, E., & Leivadi, S. (2022), Business employability for late millennials: exploring the perceptions of generation Z students and generation X faculty. Management Research Review, 45(5), pp. 664-683. https://doi.org/10.1108/MRR-04-2021-0328

Lloyd, M. (2008). Mutual Respect: Implications for Classroom Effectiveness. Masters in Teaching Program 2006-2008: Teaching the Child in Front of You in a Changing World (pp. 161-170). https://archives.evergreen.edu/masterstheses/Accession89-10MIT/2008MITMastersProjects.pdf

Martini, C., Sprenger, J., & Colyvan, M. (2013). Resolving disagreement through mutual respect. Erkenntnis, 78(4), 881-898. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10670-012-9381-8

Patrick, H., Ryan, A. M., & Kaplan, A. (2007). Early Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Classroom Social Environment, Motivational Beliefs, and Engagement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(1), 83-98. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.99.1.83

Ritter, B. A., Small, E. E., Mortimer, J. W., & Doll, J. L. (2018). Designing Management Curriculum for Workplace Readiness: Developing Students’ Soft Skills. Journal of Management Education, 42(1), 80-103. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562917703679

Volk, S. (2019, August 1). Where Does Democratic Engagement Fit on Your Syllabus?. Great Lakes Colleges Association/Global Liberal Arts Alliance. http://glcateachlearn.org/where-does-democratic-engagement-fit-on-your-syllabus/

Image Attributions

Figure 1. Group of people playing musical instruments by Tima Miroshnichenko is used under Pexels Licence

About the Author

Dr Eugenia Tzoumaka is a Lecturer at the Deree – The American College of Greece, where she teaches marketing courses at the Marketing Department and the Sports Management Program. Her current teaching involves such courses as Fundamentals of Marketing, Digital & Social Media Marketing, Applied Marketing Management & Metrics, Sports Marketing and Sports Promotion & Social Media.

Her Ph.D. thesis on sports celebrity brands was awarded the international João Havelange Research Scholarship by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA).

She is a member of the Center of Excellence in Food, Tourism & Leisure, with a research focus on sport marketing and sport tourism. Her research agenda also includes personal branding, consumer-based brand equity and social identification effects on consumer behavior.

She has published papers in international conferences, edited volumes and academic journals, such as the Journal of Marketing Communication and the International Journal of Sport Management & Marketing.


Scaffolding an event

Dr Alison G. Harvey

Photograph from inside an electric pylon showing its scaffolded structure- An image shot from below of an electricity pylon looking up through its inner structure

What is the idea?

In scientific disciplines we often resort to practical labs or question sheets as the opportunities for students to apply knowledge. The idea outlined here aims to allow more creativity and decision making by applying the principles of ‘scaffolding’ to teaching in higher education (Wood et al., 1976). The activity involves providing students with an event or activity (relating to their course material) that they need to design and build. For example: Preparing a scientific article, planning a workshop or conference, planning a scientific experiment, planning a lesson, applying a professional framework to a project.

The facilitator provides layers of scaffolding to support the process, adding further layers as the students progress. However, it is the students who make the decisions, fill in the details and use their own creative ideas and collaboration to apply their knowledge, and in doing so, identify gaps in understanding.

Why this idea?

The fundamental benefits to using this idea for active learning are summed up in the concept that we are asking the facilitators to relinquish some control over the outcome of the learning activity.

Creativity breeds inspiration and motivation (Al-Zahrani, 2015; Nordstrom & Korpelainen, 2011). By allowing the students to take the project in a direction of their choice they begin to own the learning process.

Choices and freedom empower students to use their voice and to incorporate their own lived experiences into the learning process (hooks, 1994). It allows them to learn from one another. It also avoids teachers prescribing ‘the way things are done’.

In addition, by giving the students some control of the ‘steering wheel’ they are more likely to notice gaps in their knowledge. Bloom’s taxonomy talks about deeper level learning verbs such as design, create, choose (Kennedy, 2006; Krathwohl, 2002). In order to achieve these deeper levels of learning the students need to take some ownership of the process (Biggs & Tang, 2011a, 2011b; Spronken-Smith et al., 2012). The ultimate end point of the activity would be to ask the students to reflect on the outcomes of the various groups and to provide each other with feedback.

How could others implement this idea?

Example implementation

I have previously used this idea with students in groups of 3-4 where the ‘event’ to plan was: An outreach activity to introduce ‘Biomaterials’ to the public.

A short brief was provided outlining the key aspects that must be covered and level 1 scaffolding instructions were given.

Students had 1 hour to:

  • Choose the specific area they will focus on
  • Define a title for their activity
  • Determine the audience and type of event (e.g. in school/outreach festival)
  • Outline the aims for themselves/the audience
  • Brainstorm activity ideas

After 1 hour a feedback point is introduced. Students share their initial plan in 3-5 minutes with another group and give each other feedback.

Over the next hour, level 2 scaffolding involves:

  • Considering feedback and making changes,
  • Deciding on their activity
  • Create timeline of jobs prior to event
  • Create schedule for event
  • Ask: Can other aspects from the unit be incorporated?

Another feedback point is used followed by the level 3 scaffolding:

  • More details added to the timeline and schedule, including specific details of materials/ resources needed, delegation of jobs, external support etc.

In this instance the students submit their plans from each scaffold and responses to feedback as coursework.

Instructions for implementation

The first step in implementing this idea is to think of an activity or event where an aspect of your course material could be used in a real-life situation.

Once the activity has been decided you will need to break the activity down into defined components that need to be chosen, designed, planned etc.

Next, separate these components out according to complexity and level of detail needed.

You can then create the scaffolding layers. Layer 1 will use the broadest and simplest components. Layer 2 asks for more detail and incorporates more components with less direction from the facilitator. It is up to you to decide how many layers and what time period this will cover: is this a one-hour activity? Or will it run through the course?

Between each scaffolding layer add in feedback checkpoints. These could involve peer feedback or feedback directly from the facilitator. A key question to ask the students at these points is ‘could we take this plan and carry out this activity tomorrow?’. There is usually more detail needed!

Ideally at the end of the project the students will reflect on the outcomes of their work. Or maybe they can put it into practice.

Transferability to different contexts

This idea can be easily transferred to different situations. The key is in identifying how the material that is being taught could be used, how students would apply what they have learnt to a real-life situation in a way that requires them to understand the concepts and make decisions. Activities that involve some aspect of students sharing their knowledge through teaching are particularly useful.

The level of difficulty can be tailored depending on the level of student ability. By creating a more rigid scaffold we can guide lower-level students more. By reducing the number of questions and prescriptions in the scaffolding we allow the students to explore the ‘what if…?’ questions!


Al-Zahrani, A. M. (2015). From passive to active: The impact of the flipped classroom through social learning platforms on higher education students’ creative thinking. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(6), 1133–1148. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12353

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011a). Contexts for effective teaching and learning. In J. Biggs & C. Tang (Eds.), Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed.) (pp. 58-80). Open University Press.

Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011b). The changing scene in university teaching. In J. Biggs & C. Tang (Eds), Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed.) (pp. 3-15). Open University Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Kennedy, D. (2006). Writing and using learning outcomes: A practical guide. University College Cork.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice, 41(4), 212–218. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4104_2

Nordstrom, K., & Korpelainen, P. (2011). Creativity and inspiration for problem solving in engineering education. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(4), 439–450. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2011.560379

Spronken-Smith, R., Walker, R., Batchelor, J., O’Steen, B., & Angelo, T. (2012). Evaluating student perceptions of learning processes and intended learning outcomes under inquiry approaches. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(1), 57–72. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2010.496531

Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17(2), 89–100. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x

Image Attributes

Steel Scaffolding by Didgeman is used under Pixabay Licence

About the Author

Dr Alison Harvey is a Teaching and Scholarship Lecturer at the University of Manchester, with a background in Biomedical Materials Science. She has designed and delivered bespoke courses for postgraduate students within the field as well as teaching/facilitating undergraduate learning. Particular interests include inclusive learning and blended learning approaches.


'Put yourself in my shoes': an active learning exercise for the instruction of diversity

Dr George Kyparissiadis


Diverse hands on table

What is the idea?

“Put yourself in my shoes” is an active learning exercise designed to help students appreciate the dimensions of diversity and the value of inclusive representation by adopting perspectives through the eyes of diverse audiences. The exercise takes students through the schema of identity, diversity, and representation on media, and asks them to consider the issue through the perspective of people that are underrepresented in contemporary texts, such as advertising. In the context of formative assessment, students select an advertisement (print or video) that portrays social groups and models of different abilities, genders, ethnic identities, etc. They are then asked to put themselves in the shoes of the person being represented in the ad, and to write in the first person how they feel seeing themselves in an advertisement. The purpose of the exercise is to encourage students to develop empathy and appreciation for diversity and inclusion.

Why this idea?

It has been shown that formative assessment can improve student learning in the classroom (Bubb et al., 2013). This exercise has been designed as an ungraded take-home assignment, that allows students to engage fully with the material and purpose of the exercise at their own pace. The exercise consists of a research component, role playing, and in-class discussions, around the students’ contribution as well as contemporary perspectives on diversity.

The course material stems from the principles of the Cultivation Theory, which posits that the content we consume through media affects our perception of the world. Audiences develop impressions and biases for different social groups, based on the portrayal, or lack thereof, of these groups on media such as television, social media and outdoor advertising. The representation of diversity in media raises, therefore, ethical, legal and social considerations that can be assessed by appraising the situation and appreciating the value of inclusion and appropriate representation (Cluley, 2017, Mosharafa, 2015). The exercise encourages students to revisit their own preconceptions around specific identities, and to switch perspectives with them. Their outlook is then shared with their colleagues through an online blog as well as an in-class presentation of their experience. Students are encouraged to comment on each other’s contribution, allowing for the discovering of new identities, which may even be represented in class. This practice stimulates empathy, team spirit and a deeper understanding of the necessity for representation and inclusion.

How could others implement this idea?

The exercise ‘Put yourself in my shoes’ was originally designed as a formative assessment in a course on Advertising Theories, but can be adapted for different Liberal Arts and Sciences courses. The implementation presented below regards the exercise in advertising.

Background Discussion

As mentioned above, the exercise is based on the premise of Cultivation Theory, and the concepts of identity and appropriate representation. Lectures and discussion in the classroom take students through these notions, with a focus on advertising, and its contribution to the building of stereotypes around gender, age, abilities, ethnicities, sexual preference, among audiences for the past decades.


Following the in-class discourse, students are given the instructions below:

Blackboard Blog: Cultivation Theory

As discussed in class, the majority of models in advertising tend to comply with the stereotypic white, able-bodied, young, heterosexual person. Men tend to be strong and independent, women tend to be useful in the house, and in need of protection. Your task is to find an advertisement that portrays models of appearance or behaviour that do not comply with the mainstream stereotype.

For this advertisement, answer in a couple of sentences the following questions:

    • Why do you think this ad is important?
    • Assume you are a member of the group represented in the ad. How do you feel seeing it? Write your statement in the first person.

Students are asked to submit their responses on a Blackboard blog, and are encouraged to review and comment upon the previous entries. Once the responses are up, each student shares in class the advertisement they have selected. The discussion that follows is key in ensuring that students benefit from the diverse perspectives and understand the significance and value of inclusion in advertising, as well as the larger societal context. The focus of the discussion should lie primarily on the learnings of the exercise. Indicative questions and areas for discussion can be:

  • How do media contribute in the forming of our identities?
  • What is the value of representation?
  • What is the responsibility of media and communication organisations towards society?
  • What role should regulatory bodies play in this process?

Transferability to different contexts

The objective of the exercise is to help students appreciate the value of representation of different identities and voices, specifically through advertising. However, it can apply easily to other fields, such as music, art, literature, cinema or other commercial media content, depending on the course area and material.

A consideration for instructors is the fact that such reflective exercises may touch upon sensitive, or even vulnerable, aspects of identity that students may find too personal. The conducting of the exercise relies on empathy, which can be defined as “understanding another person’s experience by imagining oneself in that other person’s situation” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p. 297-298) both on the part of the students, as well as the instructor. This notion should be introduced at the beginning of the session, to set the framework and the spirit in which individual contributions should be developed and viewed.

On the part of the instructor, empathy also indicates an effort to “deeply understand students’ personal and social situations, to feel care and concern in response to students’ positive and negative emotions, and to respond compassionately without losing the focus on student learning” (Meyers et al, 2019, p. 160). With this in mind, it is important to be alert for any potential discomfort among the students, and direct the conversation back to the main topic, using for example, the indicative questions listed above of the exercise is the appreciation of different identities and voices, through their representation in advertising. However, it can apply easily to other contexts, such as music, art, literature, cinema or commercial media content, depending on the course topic.

Regarding student acceptance, below are a couple of considerations:

Some students may see this exercise as an opportunity to bring their own identity to the forefront of the discourse, particularly if they belong in a socially mis- or under-represented group. I believe this should be encouraged, and also used as a prompt for further discussion in class.

In my experience, there were no incidents of students challenging the purpose or learning of this exercise, and refusing to contribute or cooperate. However, such resistance is likely and should be anticipated. My suggestion would be to define the aspects of diversity that will be discussed (e.g. gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc) depending on cultural codes and societal dogmas shared among students.

Links to tools and resources

Examples of advertisements addressing Diversity and Inclusion


Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Empathy. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vos (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Social Psychology Volume 1 (pp. 297-298). SAGE Publications, Inc. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412956253.n179

Bubb, D. K., Schraw, G., James, D. E., Brents, B. G., Kaalberg, K. F., Marchand, G. C., Amy, P., & Cammett, A. (2013). Making the case for formative assessment: How it improves student engagement and faculty summative course evaluations. Assessment Update, 25(3), 8–12.

Cluley, R. (2017). Essentials of Advertising. Kogan Page Limited

Meyers, S., Rowell, K., Wells, M., & Smith, B. C. (2019). Teacher empathy: A model of empathy for teaching for student success. College Teaching, 67(3), 160–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2019.1579699

Mosharafa, E. (2015). All you need to know about: The cultivation theory. Global Journal of Human-Social Science, 15(8).

Image Attribution

Five human hands by Clay Banks is used under Unsplash Licence

About the Author

Dr George Kyparissiadis teaches marketing and communications at the American College of Greece, and is the Program Coordinator for the MA in Advertising Communications. His academic and research interests focus on the areas of gender, identity, representation and diversity, as well as visual communications, particularly in the area of advertising.


Student characters for a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach to university life

Dr Jessica Clare Hancock

Group of students working

What is the idea?

A Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach to student journeys has been used for a module in an MA in Higher Education – the module examines student support. The participants on the module are allocated to groups and are given a particular ‘student’ with a profile indicating potential support needs (for example, being first in their family to attend higher education). The groups hear from their student throughout the course of the module, via ‘emails’ from the student which are posted to group forums on the VLE. The emails reveal how the student is getting on with their course, and some of the problems that they experience. The groups meet to discuss these messages and how the student might be responded to, before sharing the student’s update and their group’s reply with the rest of the class. This activity could easily be used with students directly, to enable them to examine their own student journeys and transition points – this chapter will now explore how this might work in practice.

Why this idea?

Transition is tricky for students (Austen et al., 2021; Collings et al., 2016; Denovan & Macaskill 2013), and it is more and more frequently recognised that factors that affect student success are myriad and do not always relate to direct problems with the subject material of their degree (Gurbuz et al., 2019; Jacklin & Le Riche, 2009; Kettell, 2020). This PBL exercise with an imaginary (but authentic) student enables the discussion of different issues that might be experienced by students at a distance (because they are talking about their character and not themselves), and allows students to arrive, through peer support (and the support of the lecturer in class), at some solutions to common issues. The small-group discussions prior to the session enable collaboration and research into solutions at students’ own pace, and whole-class discussions provide valuable opportunities for peer learning and insight into a range of issues (Boud et al., 2013). The PBL approach also makes the issues align to learners’ interests as they will be more receptive to insights from the lecturer having already grappled with their own responses to a problem (Schwatz & Bransford, 1998).

The longitudinal nature of the activity means that problems can be discussed at relevant points in the term, rather than transition activities taking place mainly at the beginning and students being overwhelmed by all the different sources of help for particular issues. For example, the initial character issues could centre around starting university (perhaps what to do if the character is unfamiliar with UK education, has arrived late and missed some information, or how to become part of their course community if they are a parent or commuter student), and then later in the term the character could experience health issues, problems with completing assessments or financial difficulties. Through the use of authentic messages and problem descriptions, students might also become aware of effective ways in which they might seek help, through the recognition of gaps in information, or appreciate that there might be different perspectives other than their character’s on a particular incident.

How could others implement this idea?

This idea was successfully trialled on a module addressing student support which was part of an MA in Higher Education, so the content of the discussions had direct applicability to the learning outcomes and assessment. Participants reported that the PBL approach worked to engage them with the kinds of issues that different students might experience, and several commented that they became quite attached to ‘their’ student and looked forward to the next ‘email’ update to find out how they were getting on.

This approach of using PBL to examine student support issues would also work well directly with students. In this case, it could either form part of a core module, perhaps if students have a relevant module, such as one on personal development planning, or it could occur alongside subject material if the learning outcomes (and perhaps also the assessment) were adjusted to accommodate learning about student support needs, or transition issues as well as the disciplinary content. Alternatively, this activity could be run as part of group personal tutoring sessions or similar which sit outside of programme content.

You would need to decide how many groups are needed (perhaps around 5 students per group) and then work out how many characters are required. If the cohort is large, it could be quite effective to give the same character to several groups – this would enable comparison of the different groups’ responses to the same issues.

Each character requires a name, brief bio (such as background before joining the course, age, gender, ethnicity, class, nationality, any disability or neurodiversity, personality). They should be chosen to represent the diversity of students on the course. A collaboration with current students and/ or the Student Union would be ideal to ensure authenticity of the characters, their problems, and how these are expressed.

Emails from each character would need to be composed and sent out a week before time in class is allocated to discussions, to enable the group to meet and formulate their response. This could be done quite easily using the group function available on most VLEs, or using Teams channels for each group. Feedback on responses would be given during class discussions, which might involve inviting a relevant professional (such as someone from student support) into the class.

Transferability to different contexts

This could be used for any course, and although it might be particularly beneficial as a transition activity for first year UG or taught masters students, it is something that could be returned to at key points throughout a degree course, during different modules, so perhaps looking at employability issues towards the end of the course. This could be a formative activity, or linked to a summative assessment using a reflection on the character’s issues, or the process of the activity.


Austen, L., Pickering, N., & Judge, M. (2021). Student reflections on the pedagogy of transitions into higher education, through digital storytelling. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(3), 337–348. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2020.1762171

Boud, D., Sampson, J. & Cohen, R. (2013). Peer learning in higher education: Learning from & with each other. Routledge.

Collings, R., Swanson, V., & Watkins, R. (2016). Peer mentoring during the transition to university: assessing the usage of a formal scheme within the UK. Studies in Higher Education, 41(11), 1995–2010. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2015.1007939

Denovan, A., & Macaskill, A. (2013). An interpretative phenomenological analysis of stress and coping in first year undergraduates. British Educational Research Journal, 39(6), 1002–1024. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3019

Gurbuz, E., Hanley, M., & Riby, D. M. (2019). University students with autism: The social and academic experiences of university in the UK. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(2), 617–631. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3741-4

Jacklin, A., & Le Riche, P. (2009). Reconceptualising student support: from “support” to “supportive.” Studies in Higher Education, 34(7), 735–749. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070802666807

Kettell, L. (2020). Young adult carers in higher education: the motivations, barriers and challenges involved – a UK study. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 44(1), 100–112. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2018.1515427

Schwartz, D.L. & Bransford, J.D. (1998). ‘A time For telling’. Cognition and Instruction, 16(4) 475-5223. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532690xci1604_4

Image Attribution

People-Girl-woman-students by StockSnap is used under Pixabay Licence

About the Author

Dr Jessica Hancock is Head of Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester, where she is programme lead for the MA in Learning and Teaching in HE, and CASTLE (Celebration and Recognition Scheme for Teaching and Learning Expertise – supporting HEA fellowship applications). She has published on academic writing, and compassionate and identity-focused approaches to developing teaching in HE.


2b Building Community


International Pathways students: applied Learning Weeks build networks

Dr Victoria Wilson-Crane

Image of three students around a table, working collaboratively, using laptops and other learning resources. Another student is looking on, from the right. There is a large, well-stocked bookshelf in the background. Students are smiling and appear to be enjoying themselves.

What is the idea?

The academic year for pathways learners was divided up into short cycles of largely-teacher mediated formal learning with a strong emphasis on active learning, punctuated by compulsory weeks dedicated to applied learning where students are off their regular timetables learning in multi-disciplinary groups with greater autonomy to curate their own learning experiences.

Why this idea?

In response to student feedback indicating a need to help students create networks beyond their courses, in Autumn 2019, Kaplan International Pathways introduced a new academic calendar. The company operates ten pathways to Higher Education colleges on or close to campuses of universities in the UK. 6,000 students each year successfully complete these programmes and progress to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at a range of institutions, including those in the Russell Group.

Working with others and making good use of the contacts we have has never been more important (Adey, 2021, p. xvi), particularly during the global pandemic where in-person social contact has been restricted. Montgomery suggests that “international students form a strong international community that supports their learning.” (Montgomery, 2010, p. 67). It is helpful if students are scaffolded to build these networks during their time on their pathways course.

King and Scott (2014) note “research shows it is not sufficient to look to a boss, or a senior mentor or sponsor; you need to build a set of high-quality relationships to drive and sustain success.” (p. 6). The opportunities for relationship building and forming a global network is something that we know our international students prioritise so this is particularly important for students in our context but is relevant to learners in many other settings, too.

Formal learning at Kaplan International Pathways is now divided into five-week cycles. In between cycles there are themed Applied Learning Weeks.

These weeks are opportunities for students to focus on interdisciplinary topics, apply the learning from their modules and work with students from different courses and at different levels (pre-undergraduate and pre-postgraduate). They include elements of team-based learning, discovery-based learning and problem-solving, working with tutors who facilitate the learning and provide relevant support and guidance.

On the Monday of Applied Learning Weeks, students are introduced to their groups and the theme and objectives for the week and are required to organise their activities towards a common goal. Students are given a brief for each Applied Learning Week and activities are then student-led with Learning Advisors and other tutors available for support and guidance if needed. There are check-in points daily to ensure students are on-task but aside from those, students work remotely from the college on their projects.

Applied Learning Week outputs, such as presentations, models, objects, posters etc. are not summatively assessed but students gain peer and staff feedback on their efforts and write about their work in their assessed KapPACK e-Portfolio.

The themes for Applied Learning Weeks are:

  • Celebrating Diversity
  • Design Week
  • Enterprise*
  • Environment and Sustainability*
  • Eye on Industry Week
  • Kindness
  • Local, National, Global*
  • Our Community, Our World*
  • Pathway to my Professional Life
  • Research Week
  • Transition to University

*compulsory weeks – all students must do a week on this theme, others are voluntary.

Colleges choose which weeks will be the most appropriate for their students, and to take into account the availability of local resources or special events, supporting the themes. Annually, there has been an Our Community, Our World Week which is scheduled to run concurrently at all colleges, affording opportunities for cross-college activities.

For 2021-22, we have added some learning during Welcome Week on collaboration which is a theme of our Kindness Curriculum. We want to emphasise that collaboration is a skill that can be learned and students have the opportunity to put this skill into practice during Applied Learning Weeks in a low-stakes way.

What have we learned?

Student engagement with Applied Learning Weeks has been very positive; occasionally small numbers of students have not chosen to engage with weeks in the early stages of their courses, citing lack of relevance and their desire to focus on their taught classes. However, on reflection and having heard about the positive experiences of their classmates, they have engaged later in the course and found the weeks useful. This is something we are comfortable with as it truly emphasises the student-led nature of these experiences.

Technology was an aid to learning, pre-pandemic. Technology for collaboration and communication has become a vital resource since Spring 2020, where students have experienced Applied Learning Weeks remote from the physical college buildings.

Although unforeseen, there are benefits of students studying remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, that we might want to continue with e.g. students learning about group work in a remote scenario, mirroring potential future hybrid or remote work environments which are currently hotly debated (Partridge & Makortoff, 2021).

Next steps: we will try to measure the impact of Applied Learning Weeks on overall achievement on programmes by exploring attainment for students on the Kaplan Pathways Award and upon progression to the host university, as our perception is that this experience of active learning helps to cement and apply other learning students have across the programme and gives confidence about working in groups and teams, something we know students can find challenging. It may be possible to work with university partners to gather data on students’ progress and achievement in group-work assignments, for example.

How could others implement this idea?

This idea could be used on other programmes or more widely in cross-institutional arrangements where students generally do not currently work in interdisciplinary teams. It takes some cross-departmental negotiation about how to use term-time most effectively. In large organisations, a useful start-point could be to start small (i.e. across two complementary disciplines) and work from there.

Transferability to different contexts

This is relevant to anyone working with students where learning outcomes require and encourage self-direction and leadership and where students are encouraged to work beyond their usual peer groups, perhaps with students in different disciplines. Whilst we work exclusively with international students, this approach is relevant for many different types of adult learners.

Links to tools and resources

There is some brief information about how Applied Learning Weeks are part of our Career Focus approach, in this blog: https://www.kaplanpathways.com/about/news/career-focus-5-ways-to-improve-your-employability-while-studying-abroad/. I would be happy to share materials etc. if anyone would like to discuss.


Adey, L. (2021). Your path, your way to successful networking: Building strong connections for your future career. Ladey Adey Publications.

King, Z., & Scott. A. (2014). Who is in your personal boardroom? How to choose people, assign roles and have conversations with purpose. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Montgomery, C. (2010). Universities into the 21st Century: Understanding the international student experience. Palgrave.

Partridge, J., & Makortoff, K. (2021, June 18). Office, hybrid or home? Businesses ponder future of work. The Guardian.

Image Attribution

Three Students by Priscilla Du Preez is used under Unsplash Licence

About the Author

Dr Victoria Wilson-Crane is the lead academic for Kaplan International Pathways and heads up the Centre for Learning Innovation and Quality. She brings over 25 years of experience and ensures Pathways meet the needs of international students in transition to UK Higher Education. She is passionate about learning for others and herself.


MS Teams: illuminating a research community

Kelly Trivedy


Image of email messages from laptop and phone, represented by yellow envelopes flying out of screen. A map of the world is in the background
Figure 1. Image representing Online Community

What is the idea?

Research can be an isolated activity involving individualised processes (Wenger, 1998). Over time, there has been a welcoming of open and collaborative research between colleagues, students, and researchers. I wanted to inspire relationship building (Serrat, 2017) and rich, inclusive conversations by creating an MS Teams research space for my students.

This chapter provides insight into using MS Teams as part of a PGCE, postgraduate research module. The idea is rooted in building communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and strengthening bonds between a group of researchers working on individual projects.

Student research is a journey, not a destination. An MS Teams research community encourages students to share in the lightbulb moments, struggles, and the wins that research brings! This applies to undergraduate as well as post-graduate students.

Fruitful conversations around unfinished ideas, book recommendations, imagery of home life, honest pleas for support, and sharing of creative practice are among the topics that can enrich the student experience. Additionally, this helps to cultivate meaningful and engaging spaces which endorse active learning and knowledge collaboration to occur naturally in the online sphere.

Wenger (1998) discusses essential structural qualities for the operation of a community of practice:


I have adapted Wenger's Qualities of CoP. Mutual engagement (how are the students engaging in the community? Joint enterprise (what is the community centered arond?) and share repertoise (what have the community created together?
Figure 2. Wenger’s Qualities of a CoP (adapted)

Using Wenger’s three qualities, here are my adapted three steps to implementing this idea in practice:

  • Pre-module warm-up
  • Module familiarity
  • On-going development

These points will be discussed in turn below with the idea of learning for research as a social activity at its core for first-time researchers such as undergraduate students working on a dissertation, MA students, and those new or returning to Higher Education (HE).

Why this idea?

Following the constructivist stance allows students to create meaning from their own experiences (Girvan and Savage, 2010). Marrying this with Vygotsky’s (1978) view and translating the importance of community can be transformative practice in HE, where student researchers connect existing knowledge with new knowledge in a shared space that is conducive to this development.

As the leader of a research module for an in-service PGCE programme for the post-compulsory education sector, I was conscious of my students’ busy lives outside of their studies. Inspired by Wenger (1998), I sought to provide a space for them to share in their wins and talk openly about their challenges without fear of judgment. In their presentation of an ‘ecology of interactive learning environments’ Johnson (2014) discussed how shared online experiences scaffold individual interpretations. Coupled with Johnson’s ideas, I was also fuelled by the awareness that interactivity online could motivate and stimulate learning (Keengwe et al., 2013).

The interactivity attracted me to use Teams with my students. It gave them a space in which they could explore and celebrate the following:

  • The ‘aha’ moments and wins!
  • The ‘uh oh’ moments and lows!
  • The ‘found it’ moments with resources
Student feedback: I have enjoyed the interaction and community feeling that seems to naturally occur when everyone embraces Teams. In our group, the ability to post comments, images, links and ideas for everyone to see and respond to has been beneficial. I would recommend this tool to other teachers, especially as a way to foster an online learning community.
Figure 3. Student Feedback on the use of MS Teams

How could others implement this idea?

The following key steps are helpful for implementation:

Pre-module warm-up

Step 1: Set up your MS Team – this is the practical and process-based element to get you started. Invite your students.

Step 2: Set up your channels – there may be specific channels that would work best for you. I followed the milestone research stages for mine: Literature Review, Methodology, Methods, Ethics, Findings/Discussion and Conclusion and Recommendations. I also had separate channels for the submission(s), ‘FAQs’, ‘Student Social Space’ and the ‘Ask the Tutor’.

Step 3: Introductions – this is where you bring your Team to life and help to strengthen relationships. Encourage students to talk about their initial research idea and post images/interests.

Module familiarity

Step 4: Navigation guide – In any online space, direction is key. Having a tab that is named ‘Start here’ can help your students to know how the space will work and what is expected. Community guidelines for group expectations around language, behaviour, and mutual respect can also be helpful.

Step 5: Prompt posts – These are to remind students to complete tasks or just a friendly mid-week hello with deadline reminders helps. The key here is to support but not overwhelm. Have a routine for your posts so students know what to expect.

Step 6: Open spaces – The general channel can be helpful for this and can allow for a free-flow conversation. You may want to also set up a separate channel called ‘Student Social Space’ so they can talk to each other more generally on there without the educator being present.

Ongoing development

Step 7: After the module has ended, encouraging posts for the next steps and what that will look like for the research to be disseminated.

Step 8: Alumni relations to invite students back to speak about their research in the next academic year of your programme.

Further top tips for success:

  • Tag the channel name each time you post so it alerts the group
  • Colour code and allow students to understand what each colour action represents
  • Use directive language

Drawbacks and adjustments

These are the areas I would alter, adapt and develop further:

  • Consult with students from the outset on how they would like the MS Team to work. Discussion points may include:
    • Student-run channels
    • The type of information shared
    • Post frequency and how often they are expected to interact
  • Consider the change and power in relations between students (Tummons, 2017) namely:
    • Recognition of unequal power structures in groups
    • Individual tasks with encouragement to share in the team to promote inclusivity

Transferability to different contexts

After the success of this in the PGCE research module, I replicated it as part of a PGCAP programme. It worked equally well. It can be widened out to any module but particularly those which have a longer-term project involved or a hybrid style of delivery. It lends itself well to group-based projects too.

Great for:

  • Doctoral/MA research programmes
  • Teacher training programmes
  • Research electives
  • Science-based experiments
  • Tech group research

Links to tools and resources


Girvan, C., & Savage, T. (2010). Identifying an appropriate pedagogy for virtual worlds: A communal constructive case study. Computers and Education, 55(1), 342-349. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.01.020

Keengwe, J., Adjei-Boateng, E., & Diteeyont, W. (2012). Facilitating active social presence and meaningful interactions in online learning. Education and Information Technologies, 18(4), 597-607. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-012-9197-9

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Serrat, O. (2017). Knowledge solutions: Tools, methods, and approaches to drive organizational performance. Springer.

Tummons, J. (2017). Learning architectures in higher education: Beyond communities of practice. Bloomsbury.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press.

Image Attribution

Email Newsletter by ribkhan is used under Pixabay licence

About the Author

Kelly Trivedy is an Independent Academic Consultant, Coach and Tutor who supports educators and students in Higher and Further Education to strive for successful mastery of critical thinking, reflective practice and research skills. She is also currently a Lecturer in the School of Education at Nottingham Trent University. Alongside critical thinking, she has further interests in active and inclusive pedagogies. Kelly previously worked as an Educational and Academic Developer in Education.


Interactive mind map - creating bonds among new learners

Dr Malgorzata Trela and Dr Sophie Rutschmann


Screenshot of a mind map activity
Figure 1. An example of a mind map introductory activity for MSc in Immunology at Imperial College London

What is the idea?

Countless educational institutions welcome new students to their courses every year. Whether in a blended, face-to-face or hybrid learning approach, helping students get to know each other is a fundamental part of the induction programme because it contributes to community building and the sense of belonging (Smith et al., 2021). Establishing initial connections between peers and their tutors can be achieved via a variety of bonding activities. More than an icebreaker activity, where students typically learn some personal information about each other, the interactive mind map that we devised offers students the opportunity to get to know their peers by applying their newly acquired knowledge collaboratively in a safe space. Growing together into a team of curious and open-minded individuals, through this activity, the students can challenge ideas between each other and begin to lay the groundwork favouring peer learning for the remainder of their course. Moreover, it provides opportunities for peer knowledge transfer, facilitates collaboration amongst students and stimulates cohort discussion upon receipt of academic feedback on this activity from their tutor or lecturer, whose supportive role is very much that of a ‘guide on the side’ (King, 1993). This encourages students to be proactive and to appreciate the importance of collaborative learning (Cedros Araujo & Gadanidis, 2020; Poellhuber et al., 2008).

Why this idea?

It is quite apparent that students’ attitudes have an impact on their learning journey. Therefore, developing rapport and bonds among peers from the start can help to generate a positive atmosphere and mutual respect which encourage their participation in activities (Scager et al., 2016). This is grounded in the formation of a social context and team identity, both of which are important for collaborative learning (Adel, 2011). Students’ respect for, and recognition of the opinions of their tutors usually tends to be more apparent than that for their fellow classmates. The idea behind the interactive mind map has been developed with maximising bonding, the sense of fellowship and empathy at its centre. This field-specific interactive task promotes student-led learning by fostering comfortable interaction among team members and presents the opportunity to discover their peers’ ideas (which are often different to their own) by engaging in discussions (Zheng et al., 2020). In addition, through the visual organisation of information, a mind map enables learners to notice connections between various concepts and to appreciate the bigger picture within an area of interest (Davies, 2011; Rajapriya & Kumar, 2017; Wright, 2006). An example of a mind map is demonstrated in Figure 1.

How could others implement this idea?

The following guidelines were written for our Masters in Immunology programme, at Imperial College London, consisting of around 35 students divided into small groups of 5-6. They have been developed for online teaching, with the help of online breakout spaces, and can easily be adapted to a face-to-face setting.

The students are provided with a pre-selected coursework book chapter or publication which explores introductory concepts in the subject of interest. Several sources of information can be provided, however, since this is an icebreaker type of activity, one source is preferred in our context. Each group of students is allocated a specific theme, originating from the published source, which constitutes a segment of a bigger concept. This concept is communicated in an interactive editable document (such as a file accessed via a web page link) depicting the structure of a mind map with the main concept specified at its centre and surrounded by the individual colour-coded theme components (as per the image above).

In their respective groups, students are instructed to read the assigned section from the coursebook/publication, discuss the provided material and agree on four key points which the section is trying to communicate. These key points, together with a brief commentary summarising the importance of their theme, are listed by the student groups in the appropriate text boxes within the interactive mind map document. Students have 40 minutes to work in their teams to complete their section of the mind map. After the allocated time is up, students select a speaker (or a number of speakers) within their group who will briefly present the points that are included in their section to the rest of the class. Once all groups have completed their sections and presentations, a tutor provides feedback to the class. On completion of the task, a clear interdependence of all themes is demonstrated, and the developed mind map serves as a learning and revision material.

Transferability to different contexts

The approach is easily transferable to any programme which welcomes a cohort of new students where there is a need to create bonding opportunities including undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses. It requires very little preparation from the tutor who only needs to create a mind map template, select the matter of interest from a published source, identify the sub-themes and assign them to the student groups. The tutor facilitates this task by monitoring students’ progress through active listening and can serve as an advisor if support is needed. Students are subsequently provided with feedback on their presentations during a synchronous session where they are able to reflect on the correlations between various elements of their mind map.

Links to tools and resources

Free online mind mapping tool: MindMup (https://www.mindmup.com/)


Adel, A. (2011). Rapport building in student group work. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(12), 2932-2947. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2011.05.007

Cedros Araujo, R., & Gadanidis, G. (2020). Online collaborative mind mapping in a mathematics teacher education program: A study on student interaction and knowledge construction. ZDM Mathematics Education, 52(5), 943-958. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-019-01125-w

Davies, M. (2011). Concept mapping, mind mapping and argument mapping: what are the differences and do they matter? Higher Education, 62(3), 279–301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-010-9387-6

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.1993.9926781

Poellhuber, B., Chomienne, M., & Karsenti, T. (2008). The effect of peer collaboration and collaborative learning on self-efficacy and persistence in a learner-paced continuous intake model. Journal of Distance Education, 22(3), 41-62.

Rajapriya, M., & Kumar, N. (2017). Effectiveness of mind mapping in higher education. International Journal of Civil Engineering and Technology, 8(4), 975-981.

Scager, K., Boonstra, J., Peeters, T., Vulperhorst, J., & Wiegant, F. (2016). Collaborative learning in higher education: Evoking positive interdependence. CBE Life Sciences Education, 15(4), ar69. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.16-07-0219

Smith, S., Pickford, R., Sinclair, G., Priestley, J., Sellers, R., & Edwards L. (2021). Building a sense of belonging in students: Using a participatory approach with staff to share academic practice. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice. 9(1), 44-53. https://doi.org/10.14297/jpaap.v9i1.448

Wright, J. (2006). Teaching and assessing mind maps. Per Linguam. 22(1), 23-38. http://dx.doi.org/10.5785/22-1-59

Zheng, X., Johnson, E., & Zhou, C. (2020). A pilot study examining the impact of collaborative mind mapping strategy in a flipped classroom: learning, achievement, self-efficacy, motivation, and student’s acceptance. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68, 3527-3545. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09868-0

Image attribution

Figure 1. Example of mind map activity by Malgorzata Trela is used under CC-BY 4.0 licence

About the Authors

Dr Maggie Trela is the Teaching Fellow for Imperial College MSc in Immunology and the Departmental Disability Officer for the Department of Immunology & Inflammation. She is interested in teaching that supports the learning journey of students from all walks of life and backgrounds ensuring that science is communicated effectively and inclusively to all learners.

Dr Sophie Rutschmann is the Programme Director for Imperial College MSc in Immunology and the Faculty of Medicine Academic Lead for Digital Education. She is interested in teaching and learning of Critical Thinking, the development of a professional identity and how experiential learning can be transferred to the classroom.


2c Empowering Learners


Democratising teaching: student votes and module case studies

Dr Peter Finn

Realistic sketch of an empty ballot box

What is the idea?

Building on experience from two modules, this entry explores the process of allowing students to vote on module content. Though not applicable to all modules, or perhaps even all content on any module, this practice can, depending on the specifics of a module, allow students a say in material covered. Such votes can be used to decide content for a single session or group of sessions. Reflecting pre-existing literature, quantitative data and qualitative comments from Module Evaluation Questionnaires suggest students value the ability to feed into the selection of teaching content, as well as an explicitly emancipationary framing.

Why this idea?

Literature suggests that students and teachers who engage in shared decision making about what material is covered and how teaching is structured are more committed, with the added benefit that such shared decision making may also help develop interpersonal skills needed for navigating complex, and ever changing, social contexts (Lubicz-Nawrocka, 2018). Such engagement is often discussed with relation to terms such as co-creation and students as partners (Healey, Flint & Harrington, 2014). Building on a method utilised on two modules across numerous years, and the insight that the language used in shared decisions in teaching is important (Matthews, 2016), this chapter provides a toolkit to embed emancipationary political discourse and practice drawn from democratic processes into shared decision making processes aimed at allowing students to feed into module structure and content.

How could others implement this idea?

This idea can be implemented in various ways, both high and low tech.

  1. Firstly, a teaching team need to decide how much teaching space on a module will be allocated to student votes: this could be anything from a single week to half a module or more. Different modules and teaching styles will suit different amounts. In the sample ballot below five weeks, occurring across six weeks, were allotted.
  2. Secondly, the choices on offer need to be determined. Will students, for instance, be given a predetermined list to choose a selection from? Will they be able to suggest case studies to choose from (which, as shown below, I call Wild Cards)? If Wild Cards are allowed, will there be a limit to the number included (I would suggest considering some limits here, with predetermined constraints highlighted prior to voting)? How will you determine which Wild Cards are implemented?
  3. Thirdly, the method used to allow students a choice in case study selection needs to be determined and communicated. Will you make a ballot sheet such as the one below, run a show of hands, leave the room and allow students to determine their own method of selection, or run an online poll?
  4. You need to think about how you feed results back. Will you do so in class (whether online or in person), via a module announcement, or a mixture of the two? Do you just provide the results or allow time to discuss the results (I would advise doing so, especially if you end up with a mixture of pre-suggested topics and Wild Cards)?
  5. Finally, you need to implement the chosen choices. Depending on the module this may involve some or all of the following; creating VLE pages: creating reading lists: generating lecture, seminar, and workshop materials: and developing assessment briefs.

A ballot used to select module material


There is no single way to carry out the above method. The specifics will depend on your own teaching style, those you are teaching with, and the module you are teaching. It may, at first, seem intimidating, so you could allocate just a single week or case study on a module in the first instance, and then increase from there if you wish.

Transferability to different contexts

There are clearly some modules or courses where this method would not be appropriate. Those that are heavily prescribed content wise, perhaps by a professional or government body, for instance, are likely not a good fit. However, beyond such restrictions, there are many opportunities for using this method.

This method was developed in the context of modules on human rights, politics, and international relations. However, it is likely to be of use in modules that use case studies to explore themes with broader applicability.

Beyond just feeding into the structure and focus of teaching and developing a shared stake in a module, this method can also help a teaching team get a feel for the interests of their students. Finally, adopting the language of democracy links in with pre-existing discourses that connect individuals to larger groups and society, and the benefits and responsibilities that arise from these connections.

Links to tools and resources

Albert Hirschman Centre (2021) What Keeps Democracy Alive? Interview with Till van Rahden. https://www.graduateinstitute.ch/communications/news/what-keeps-democracies-alive – This podcast contains insights into different ways of thinking about democracy, helping us broaden our conceptions beyond visits to the ballot box (as important as those are!).

Healey, M. (2015) Engaging Students As Partners and As Change Agents. Keynote Speech at University of Derby’s Learning and Teaching Conference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyEPup5qbMU – Speech by a key UK advocate of think of students as partners.

The University Of Queensland Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation (2021) Students as Partners. https://itali.uq.edu.au/advancing-teaching/initiatives/students-partners – This site has loads of great resources for thinking about how to bring students into decision making processes, as well links to relevant research.


Healey, M. Flint, A. Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. Higher Education Academy. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/engagement-through-partnership-students-partners-learning-and-teaching-higher

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T. M. (2018). Students as partners in learning and teaching: the benefits of co-creation of the curriculum. International Journal For Students as Partners, 2(1), 47-63. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i1.3207

Matthews, K. E. (2016) Students as partners as the future of student engagement. Student Engagement in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-5.

Image Attribution

Election box vector created by macrovector from FreePik

About the Author

Dr Peter Finn is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Kingston University, London. He has a decade of teaching experience, FHEA status, and has won three learning and teaching awards. These include the national BISA-HEA National Award for Excellence in Teaching International Studies by a Postgraduate Student.


Boost learners’ confidence

Margarita Steinberg

Helping students with their confidence around learning, and helping them to learn about learning go hand-in-hand. Learners don’t automatically recognise their successes, and helping them notice and celebrate every bit of progress can help them keep going (Kolb, 1984).

This chapter is developed from the online workshop on supporting learners’ confidence which I delivered at the ALN Festival of Learning in April 2021. The session showcased, and let participants experience, some useful approaches to tackling topics around confidence with groups of learners in an online format. For a review of confidence-building methods, see Maclellan (2013).

What is the idea?

‘Challenges and Triumphs’ Timeline is an activity often used in coaching. It provides a format for highlighting both successes and challenges a learner experiences over the lifespan of an endeavour or a project. Referring to participants’ own personal experiences is highly persuasive in highlighting to them the successes they’re already achieved (but may not have recognised or acknowledged). This then equips them with a convincing reason to feel confident about their future successes in tackling current and anticipated difficulties. This chapter suggests ways of adapting the ‘Timeline’ activity for use in educational settings.

The Timeline activity can also act as a diagnostic, where students identify upcoming challenges they’re concerned about or feel ill-prepared for. The tutor can then choose to address common concerns in a group setting, or support students individually as appropriate.

The activity is organised as follows:

1. Introduction

Participants are introduced to the format of a timeline and the context (the project, the time-span etc.).

2. Production

Participants each work on their own Timeline initially, marking in ~3 significant challenges, and ~3 significant successes over the specified timespan.

This activity can also be used to map participants’ concerns about upcoming / future tasks, e.g. by using the instruction “Add in some challenges you anticipate”.

3. Reflection

Once participants have completed their individual timelines, they’re invited to reflect on their own and/or discuss with peers (can be done in a write/pair/share format). Reflecting on what strengths and strategies the learners had drawn on to overcome previous challenges can also help them deal with future challenges more effectively.

Why this idea?

Most universities not only want to produce skilled graduates in various fields but also help them learn how to learn so that they will be able to cope with future learning challenges of many kinds (Hoskins & Fredriksson, 2008). There are different ways to conceptualise “learning how to learn”. A useful one is to think in terms of improving learners’ self-regulated learning capability (Winne & Hadwin, 1998). The exercise described in this chapter is designed to help students better understand their learning by recalling past triumphs and challenges (Hadwin et al., 2019).

Supporting learners’ confidence to participate is important in online and face-to-face learning environments, and can be addressed directly. This activity can boost learners’ confidence to participate and to have positive expectancy around their learning. “Allowing adults to reflect on their learning experiences has positive effects on their coping capacity and learning outcomes” (Lapina, 2018).

If applied to your own teaching, this activity can provide feedback on how learners are experiencing your module/course, and potentially highlight where additional attention may be warranted.

How could others implement this idea?

The basic idea is both simple and highly adaptable. It can be applied to a range of different time periods, for example, planning for a project, the first five weeks of a module, the span of a higher education course to date, etc. The materials needed are simple: somewhere to draw a timeline and annotate it. The interactions are easy, they can be either face-to-face or remote.

In online sessions, probably the hardest aspect is around using break-out rooms format for the paired discussions. This is because a portion of students predictably go AWOL when a break-out session is announced. A solution that has worked well is to make participation in the break-out rooms optional, and to invite those who’d rather avoid it to either remain in the main area and interact with the tutor, or to take a comfort break and return for the plenary discussion.

In both face-to-face and online settings, participants sometimes put highly personal content onto their Timeline, which they may then find uncomfortable to discuss with a peer or in a plenary. So, the tutor needs to alert participants at the start to only record from their experience those aspects which they feel comfortable to share. Alternatively, participants could write freely, and opt to select which elements they will discuss, without showing their Timeline to anyone directly.

If you’re interested in prompting discussion of anticipated difficulties, the timeline can be adjusted to ‘leave a bit of space for the future’ when selecting where along the timeline to mark ‘Today’, and include the instruction “Add in some challenges you anticipate”.

Transferability to different contexts

The focus of the Timeline can be as broadly defined as ‘your experiences in education’ or as specific as ‘your progress with a specific assignment’. The activity can be applied at all levels in education, from primary school to HE, and in the context of any subject whatsoever, so it’s highly versatile. It can be applied to both past and future challenges and successes.

Links to tools and resources


Hadwin, A. F., Davis, S. K., Bakhtiar, A., & Winne, P. H. (2019). Academic challenges as opportunities to learn to self-regulate learning. In H. Askell-Williams & J. Orrell (Eds.), Problem Solving for Teaching and Learning: A Festschrift for Emeritus Professor Mike Lawson. Routledge.

Hoskins, B., & Fredriksson, U. (2008). Learning to Learn: What is it and can it be measured? Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning (CRELL). https://doi.org/10.2788/83908

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall.

Lapina A. (2018). Facilitating coping through reflective learning in adult education: A review of the reciprocal relationship between coping and learning. Adult Learning, 29(4), 131-140. https://doi.org/10.1177/1045159518776126

Maclellan, E. (2013). How might teachers enable learner self-confidence? A review study. Educational Review, 66(1), 59-74. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2013.768601

Winne, P. H., & Hadwin, A. F. (1998). Studying as self-regulated learning. In D. J. Hacker & J. Dunlosky (Eds.), Metacognition in educational theory and practice (pp. 277-304). Erlbaum.

About the Author

Margarita Steinberg is a Leadership and Relationship Coach, as well as a teacher. She has worked with University staff and students. Margarita’s interests are around wellbeing, collaboration and self-efficacy.


Handing over the key: students take ownership of the learning management system to create their own learning

Marcus Pedersen

Your gurl and boy on laptop, Girl in green stripey top pointing at screen, boy in blue T-shirt has both arms in the air celebrating. They appear to be in a computer lab

Over the last two decades learning management systems (LMS) have had thousands of tools developed to increase the interactive nature of online learning. One of these tools, H5P, is rapidly becoming the gold standard for authoring interactive videos. H5P is a free program available on most large LMS’. H5P allows the user to create an interactive video. An interactive video allows for questions, prompts and links to be layered over a video. Therefore when the viewer is watching the video they interact with the learning material as opposed to passively watching a video.

I decided to empower both teachers and students to use this tool to create an interactive resource for masters’ students studying ophthalmology at University College London.

Why this idea?

Video can overcome barriers to understanding by allowing for increased repetition of an activity which helps with task processing (Meyer & Land, 2006). This effect of unbridled access allows for developing one’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is where a student can achieve a task with assistance from a peer or facilitator (Wertsch, 1984). There is less literature supporting the use of interactive video, so I set about collecting data from a group of twenty masters students.

Initially I taught the course instructor how to create an interactive video of evisceration surgery as students were not able to come into the hospital due to the ongoing global pandemic.

The student feedback from the initial interactive surgery video was overwhelmingly positive with a 95% increase in confidence and understanding of the topic. This positive response is most likely because ‘Advanced preparation allows for engaging discussions around clinical applications and challenging topics, increased classroom efficiency, and a more thorough understanding of material as learning is both self-paced and focused’ (Bordes et al., 2021, p. 33).

The increased participation may increase the confidence and understanding of the students. Prober and Khan (2013) further support the idea of using video, for they believe by allowing students to learn in their own time (K1) you create a space where more learning can occur. These two aspects may have attributed to the incredible feedback from students.

The next step was to then give agency to the students so they could create their own interactive video (applying one of Diana Laurillard’s six learning types ‘production’). These videos would be used as formative assessment (instead of a PowerPoint presentation) and other students could use their peers’ work to revise (peer-to-peer teaching). H5P interactive video is designed to be as accessible as possible therefore the online resources developed can be used by students with specific learning needs. Acosta et al. (2020) guided my choice for they support the idea that video can make learning more accessible.

I set about creating an isolated Moodle space where students were given tutor access so they could use H5P. The students were given access to the same instructional video I made for my colleague and then the students began to create their own interactive videos.

Hence, a new approach to use the learning management system whilst simultaneously developing resources for the virtual environment was created. There are now twenty interactive videos which, once vetted by the teacher, can be used for the next cohort and in the following years the number will increase.

These video resources can be viewed as many times as the student desires. Meyer and Land (2006) suggest this increased access to resources may increase self-efficacy. The ability to increase self-confidence is highlighted in the feedback.

The final feedback showed:

  • 86% of students found that the process of developing their own video improved their confidence and understanding of topics. Watching their peers’ videos also had the same effect
  • 86% of students believe that interactive videos are more effective than normal videos.
  • Video has been proven to increase the confidence, understanding and self-efficacy of students. I believed that layering video using H5P would only develop this further. I may be on to something…

How could others implement this idea?

  1. It requires someone who can navigate a learning management system to create a space for the students so they have ‘teacher’ access
  2. You need to create an instructional video on how to create an interactive video
  3. You need a subject matter expert to create the initial video for students to interact with
  4. Allow students to create their own interactive videos

This activity can be run at any time and can be expanded to other classes as it is not only useful for ophthalmology.

It took about 30 minutes to make the interactive video; I used Camtasia but any video editing software could be used. Teaching the course instructor took one meeting and then time to create the interactive video which is about one hour for every 10 minutes of interactive video. However, the amount of time decreases as one becomes more familiar with the software. Setting up the learning management system took about one hour.

Transferability to different contexts

This idea is valid for anyone with access to a learning management system that has H5P. Video knows no boundaries. It has an added benefit of showing things that cannot be viewed easily on online lectures.

  1. Reach out to your learning technologist they can help with the tech side of things
  2. Try software you are familiar with, it doesn’t have to be the video editing software I used
  3. Collect feedback
  4. Let me know how it goes at Marcus.pedersen@ucl.ac.uk

Links to tools and resources

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=125#oembed-1



Acosta, T., Acosta-Vargas, P., Zambrano-Miranda, J., & Lujan-Mora, S. (2020). Web Accessibility evaluation of videos published on YouTube by worldwide top-ranking universities. IEEE Access, 8, 110994-111011. https://doi.org/10.1109/ACCESS.2020.3002175

Bordes, S.J., Walker, D., Modica, L.J., Buckland, J. and Sobering, A.K., 2021. Towards the optimal use of video recordings to support the flipped classroom in medical school basic sciences education. Medical Education Online, 26(1), 1841406. https://doi.org/10.1080/10872981.2020.1841406

Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2006). Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. Routledge.

Prober, C. G., & Khan, S. (2013). Medical education reimagined: A call to action. Academic Medicine, 88(10), 1407-1410. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182a368bd

Wertsch, J. V. (1984). The zone of proximal development: Some conceptual issues. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1984(23), 7-18. https://doi.org/10.1002/cd.23219842303

Image Attribution

Kids excited at a laptop photo via GoodFreePhotos, licensed under CC-0 (public domain)

About the Author

Marcus Pedersen is a Learning Technologist for the Global Business School for Health at UCL, working with hundreds of academics across Northern Europe and Israel. After completing his Masters in teaching (primary) from the University of Melbourne, he had a brief stint as a classroom teacher before becoming involved with higher education and the interplay between technology and education.


2d Wellbeing, Humour and Mindfulness


Learning by mistake: the role of humour in active learning

Wendy Johnston

Photo of yellow painted eggs with various facial expressions

What is the idea?

Many students fear assessed skills presentations. Experiences of observing students undertaking such assessments and seeing the anxiety and stress they can create led me to explore the use of humour as a pedagogic tool and became the catalyst for the development of an innovative method of teaching and learning which is a departure from the norm. Humour creates positive learning environments which actively engages students, encourages reflection, improves retention, and helps relieve anxiety and stress for students. This chapter discusses how humour can be utilised as a powerful instructional tool enabling students to learn from their mistakes by observing what not to do!

Why this idea?

Assessed skills demonstrations/presentations can be stressful for students, raising anxiety levels and making them prone to uncharacteristic errors. I have witnessed many of these and reflected on how analysis of the mistakes could provide useful reinforcement of the correct method of practice. From observing students undertaking assessed food demonstrations, seeing the mistakes that they made, the stress that it caused, and the detrimental impact poor performance had on student’s grades, led me to identify alternative, more effective, teaching strategies.

The summative assessment for the Food and Media module (L5) requires students to deliver a live demonstration to showcase their developed recipe and complete all stages within a 15-minute time frame. Students must control what they are doing whilst effectively interacting with a live audience and ultimately produce an edible dish. Students struggled to present in front of their peers and tutors, and if they made a mistake, it impacted negatively on the remainder of their demonstration and their grades suffered. I therefore reflected on how effective positive analysis of the mistakes could provide useful reinforcement of the correct method of practice and if the use of humour could help break down barriers and create a more relaxed environment.  I wanted to create a receptive learning environment which allowed students to feel comfortable when practising their demonstration skills, to reflect on, analyse and learn from their mistakes in a positive constructive way, to break down barriers to learning and  to improve retention of information. Laughter is one of the most successful defences we have to combat problems, being an effective means of dealing with mistakes made by academics or students in a kind and considerate manner (Welker, 1977). Laughter also helps diffuse embarrassing situations for both students and lecturers within the classroom (Sudol, 1981).

Although many contend that teaching is a serious business and we are not supposed to be entertainers (Berk, 1996), I actively chose to incorporate humour into teaching and learning and to harness it as a strong tool of communication (Kocak, 2018), to create an element of surprise and to make learning enjoyable and memorable. When appropriately used humour has the potential to humanise, illustrate, defuse, encourage, and reduce anxiety (Torock et al., 2010), and it can build trust, increase morale, decrease stress and boost approachability (Kocak, 2018); however, it must never cause offence.

How could others implement this idea?

Prior to summative assessment, build in several formative feedback/feedforward sessions to build students’ confidence. Use humour and role play in one session. Record all sessions for the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for students to refer to.

Week 1 – Demonstrate simple tasks showing relevant stages and explain how to set up the demonstration area.

Week 2 – Split into two sessions. For session 1, deliver a full demonstration showing in detail how to complete each demonstration stage. Give students a break and reset the demonstration area for a second demonstration. The tutor then needs to step outside their comfort zone and completely change character, (I become ‘Theresa Green’!) – this can require a leap of faith! Using the element of surprise, humour and an element of drama deliver the demonstration again, but this time incorporate all the previous mistakes that you have seen students make into your demonstration. For me this includes getting almost every step of the recipe wrong, not knowing how to use equipment, not involving students as an audience, eyeballing one person, poor verbal and non-verbal communication, poor food hygiene, wearing too much makeup/ jewellery, plus dirty kitchen whites! A plenary session must then discuss each of the demonstrations and explain why humour and role play has been incorporated in the way that it has. It is important to reinforce that the session which used humour had been designed to show how not to deliver a demonstration. These two sessions are designed to teach students not only how to deliver a cookery demonstration correctly, but more importantly to teach them how not to deliver a demonstration. Using this method will enable students to see what mistakes and errors look like from an audience perspective and will ultimately help to break down barriers between students, peers, and lecturers. Although this method goes against traditional teaching methods, it works for my modules. A student states:

“It was so unexpected; we saw Wendy as we had never seen her before and watched incredulously as she made every mistake possible. It was hilarious, but I learned so much. When undertaking my assessed demonstration, I remembered what not to do, which enabled me to complete my assessment successfully. It made learning so memorable, I will never forget it.’’


Week 3 – Continue to build a supportive learning environment. Task students with delivering a 5-minute demonstration e.g., scrambled egg to tutor and peers. Provide detailed feedback/ feedforward.

Week 4- Students complete a full practice demonstration to their tutor and peers using previous feedback. Record. Provide further feedback/feedforward.

Week 5 – Individual tutorials with students to watch recordings of demonstrations and provide constructive feedback/feedforward and support for summative assessment

Week 6 – Summative assessment

Transferability to different contexts

Humour can be used as a pedagogic tool to effectively engage students in learning and skill development. The key principles are transferable across other disciplines particularly where there is an emphasis on skills acquisition including nursing, science, healthcare and Design Technology.


Berk, R. A. (1996). Student ratings of 10 strategies for using humor in college teaching. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 7(3), 71-92.

Kocak, G. (2018). The relationship between humor styles and creativity: A research on academics. Eurasian Journal of Business and Management, 6(4), 44-58. https://doi.org/10.15604/ejbm.2018.06.04.005

Sudol, D. (1981). Dangers of classroom humor. The English Journal, 70(6), 26-28. https://doi.org/10.2307/817146

Torok, S.E, McMorris, R.F,&  Lin, W.C. (2010). Is humor an appreciated teaching tool? Perceptions of professors’ teaching styles and use of humor. College Teaching, 52(1), 14-20. https://doi.org/10.3200/CTCH.52.1.14-20

Welker, W.A. (1977). Humor in education: A foundation for wholesome living. College Student Journal, 52(1), 14-20.

Image Attribution

Yellow painted eggs photo by Roman Odintsov via Pexels


About the Author

Wendy Johnston is a Senior Lecturer at LJMU, a National Teaching Fellow and holds Senior Fellowship status with Advance HE. Wendy is committed to implementing innovative, active learning techniques, developing authentic learning environments through the development of external partnerships/ collaborations, and continuously strives to make learning and teaching enjoyable and memorable.


Embracing mindfulness to facilitate active learning

Amy Edwards-Smith

What is the idea?

Mindfulness is often described as being present, an awareness achieved through curiosity, an open-minded approach, and embracing perspective. Such skills are beneficial for students to be active in their own learning. This chapter will explore the theoretical concept of mindful teaching and ultimately mindful learning with suggestions on how this can be implemented in teaching practice. By embracing mindfulness concepts, educators will promote a safe learning environment that fully encourages students to participate in active learning opportunities. Kisfalvi & Oliver (2015) explains that a safe space, one in which there is no judgement, mutual respect and trust, results in deeper learning as there is no fear, participation is encouraged, and students explore their own thoughts.

Why this idea?

Mindfulness embraces the present moment without judgement and purpose; it is a conscious effort to focus on the now rather than the past or future (Ludwig & Kabat-Zimm, 2008). Epstein (2020) explains the opposite of mindfulness as being mindless or on ‘autopilot’. Langer (2000) describes ‘mindful learning’ as a cognitive process with a sense of openness to experiences and possibilities. Her research shows that students’ skills in problem solving and flexibility are increased and contrasts with ‘mindless learning’ which is learning through repetition in a manner devoid of critical thinking or reflection. From a neurobiological perspective, practising mindfulness has been beneficial for metacognitive processes such as awareness and the ability to pay attention and emotional regulation. This occurs by enhancing the frontal lobe activity whilst disengaging primitive and stress responses (Tang et al., 2015).

How could others implement this idea?

Create a safe learning environment

For a learning environment to be effective, students need to feel safe (Caverzagie et al., 2019). Any concerns students hold about being judged, or indeed humiliated, will negatively affect their ability to learn due to stress hormones (Bynum & Haque, 2016). Mindful educators pay attention to their students in the moment and respond to promote trust and supportive relationships. Through observation of engagement and reflection in action (Schön, 1987), educators can be intuitive and responsive to students’ needs. To create a safe space one needs to be reflexive to students needs through observation of contribution and body language, and modelling positive behaviour (Kisfalvi & Oliver, 2015)

Being ready to learn

Students and educators are not immune to outside influences on their classroom experiences. Starting the lesson with a mindful exercise serves two purposes; it assists in displacing any emotional energy and prepares them to be fully present in their learning. Mindfulness activities that would be suitable include breathing exercises (inhale for 4, hold for 4, and exhale for 8), tuning into our five senses, or scanning the body for sensations.

Embracing multiple perspectives

Practising mindfulness involves taking perspective; analysing issues in a variety of different ways (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). Educators can foster this approach through questioning, encouraging students to differentiate between ‘fast thinking’ (recognising patterns) and ‘slow thinking’ (intention and analytical) (Hayes et al., 2017). One way to achieve this would be by asking ‘How do we know what we know?’ and playing Devil’s Advocate. Mindfulness encourages one to become aware of different possibilities and become flexible through embracing change (Anglin et al., 2008). Consider using language in the classroom to promote critical thinking, such as ‘could’ instead of ‘should’. Encourage curiosity by framing questions and activities that do not have a correct answer but encourage curiosity and discussion. Curiosity can be developed further by encouraging students to reflect on their own learning (Borrell-Carrió & Epstein, 2004).

Remember good teaching is about facilitating learning

Mindfulness practice encourages one to be present in the moment without attaching value to any particular outcome. It can be relatively easy for teachers to forget that good teaching is not about transferring knowledge but rather the facilitation of learning (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012). Lesson planning should be seen as a guide, not an outcome that needs to be adhered to, and good teachers are responsive to their students and focus on the learning process rather than the outcome. This flexibility encourages educators and students to consider new ways of accessing information, ultimately developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Langer, 2000).

Be a role model

Mindful teaching cannot occur without a mindful educator (Dobkin & Laliberte, 2014). As mentioned previously, mindfulness practice encompasses the notion of being present, being in ‘the here and now’ (Aldridge, 2015). Before you begin your class, make an intentional effort to centre yourself in the environment and acknowledge external influences. It is not expected that adopting a mindful approach will always be intuitive; indeed a great deal involves reflection and focus (Epstein, 2017). Mindful practitioners agree that a mindful approach will never become second nature and should be practised and prioritised. There are many apps, online courses, and videos that can help an educator practice personal mindfulness to become a role model for their students. Educators can be a role model in the classroom by asking non-threatening questions, sharing their own thoughts and acknowledging their own gaps in knowledge.

Mindful teaching is something to be, rather than something to do.

Although arguably an educator could introduce mindfulness as a taught session, perhaps during a study skills session, to truly achieve it one needs to assimilate the approach into their teaching philosophy consistently. To embed this into your pedagogy you could take a ‘no correct’ answer approach to facilitate curiosity, be flexible and recognise plans are not concrete to create a safe environment and use low pressure starter activities which allow transition from the outside world to the learning world.

Transferability to different contexts

Mindfulness can be embraced by teachers of all disciplines who wish to develop their pedagogy. Much of the research is within the field of health and social care due to interest in staff burnout and compassionate practice. Still, the core principles of being present, curious and open-minded are fundamental in promoting active learning. Even for those disciplines where there often is a ‘correct’ answer, such as mathematics, a mindful approach can assist in building relationships with students and encourage students’ reflection on their knowledge and experiences. The promotion of self-awareness for all students will positively influence developing skills for life-long learning and autonomy over their learning journey.

Links to tools and resources


Aldridge, M. (2015). Modelling mindful practice. Reflective Practice, 16(3), 312–321. https://doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2015.1023278

Anglin, L. P., Pirson, M., & Langer, E. (2008). Mindful learning: A moderator of gender differences in mathematics performance. Journal of Adult Development, 15(3–4), 132–139. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-008-9043-x

Borrell-Carrió, F., & Epstein, R. M. (2004). Preventing errors in clinical practice: A call for self-awareness. Annual Family Medicine, 2(4), 310–316. https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.80

Bynum, W. E. & Haque, T. M. (2016). Risky business: Psychological safety and the risks of learning medicine. Journal of Graduate Medicine Education, 8(5), 780–782. https://doi.org/10.4300/JGME-D-16-00549.1

Caverzagie, K. J., Goldenberg, M. G., & Hall, J. M. (2019). Psychology and learning: The role of the clinical learning environment. Medical Teaching, 41(4), 375–379. https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159X.2019.1567910

Dobkin, P. L., & Laliberte, V. (2014). Being a mindful clinical teacher: Can mindfulness enhance education in a clinical setting? Medical Teaching, 36(4), 347–352. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2014.887834

Epstein, R. (2017). Attending: medicine, mindfulness, and humanity. Scribner.

Epstein, R. (2020). Mindfulness in medical education: Coming of age. Perspectives in Medical Education, 9(4), 197–198. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-020-00598-w

Hayes, M. M., Chatterjee, S., & Schwartzstein, R. M. (2017). Critical thinking in critical care: Five strategies to improve teaching and learning in the intensive care unit. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 14(4), 569–575. https://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.201612-1009AS

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Bantam Books.

Kisfalvi, V., & Oliver, D. (2015). Creating and maintaining a safe space in experiential learning. Journal of Management Education, 39(6), 713–740. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562915574724

Langer, E. J. (2000). Mindful learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 220–223. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00099

Ludwig, D. S., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008). Mindfulness in medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(11), 1350–1352. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.300.11.1350

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Slavich, G. M, & Zimbardo, P. Z. (2012). Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods. Education Psychology Review, 24(4), 569–608. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-012-9199-6

Tang, Y. Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Review Neuroscience, 16(4), 213–225. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3916

About the Author

Amy Edwards-Smith teaches across a range of subjects within the School of Community Health and Midwifery at the University of Central Lancashire. She has experience of working with individuals with additional learning needs and disabilities in education and social care settings. Amy’s expertise is in Social Policy, in particular ideology, social justice and welfare. She is committed to developing students who are independent learners with a passion for life-long learning.


3 Transferable Skills

long-tailed blue
Long-tailed blue butterfly

“Education needs to be rethought. Education does not just happen in college, but it also happens in developing skills which will enable people to contribute to our society as a whole”

~ Peter Thiel





Image Attribution

Long-tailed blue butterfly, by Paolo Oprandi, is used under CC BY 4.0 licence.

Introduction to Transferable Skills

Richard Beggs; Tab Betts; and Matt Parkman

Preparing students for the professional workplace, in addition to enabling them to develop discipline expertise, is becoming more and more important. These transferable skills are often seen as crucial factors that add to the individual’s employability (Nägele & Stalder, 2017). The World Economic Forum (2020) published the predicted top 10 skills for employment in 2025, highlighting the skills needed to succeed as well as those in demand; these range from critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills to active learning, learning strategies and resilience. This demand has led to the development of some toolkits to encourage the fostering of these so called ‘soft’ skills in students such as the eLene4Life (2020) Dynamic Toolkit. The chapters collected under this theme explore various transferable skills, partnerships with industry and practical guides and tips to implementing them.

Academic Reading and Writing Skills

This section draws attention to the importance of active learning when considering more “academic” elements of teaching and learning. The use of active learning can enable learners to aid their engagement with activities such as reading, and essay/report writing.

Authors discuss ways in which these activities can become more interesting and engaging to learners, ultimately leading to positive outcomes. Suggestions include innovations such as Little’s student writing retreats, transferring practice from academic development workshops to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, and Hancock’s dissertation speed dating.

Garnham describes her approach that breaks down the process of report writing into a series of active learning activities. The benefits of co-writing are explored by Middleton, whilst Rutschmann details a student-led Journal club that encourages discussion and critical engagement.

To get students reading high-quality academic sources, Stevens shares his approach to getting students in groups to read and share understanding in passes incrementally challenging them to delve deeper. Taylor describes her “10 steps to success” guide to writing essays for students that utilises active learning approaches, while Stockton-Brown shows how inviting students to engage with their emotional responses to set topics resulted in active – and deep – learning.

The underlying premise of all of the contributions within this section is to increase interaction between learners, providing opportunity for reflection, and ensuring safe environments for learners to discuss and explore ideas that interest them, which may ultimately help them in their written work.

Critical Thinking

Miri et al. (2007) state that students need to go beyond building their knowledge capacity to develop their higher-order thinking skills. This section of the book looks at ways in which learners can creatively engage with material in a critical manner, through the use of role-playing, research, and myth busting activities.

Hickey presents the idea of engaging learners through role-playing and visualisation of alternate viewpoints. The focus is on encouraging learners to move away from their “reflex” responses and perspectives and question scenarios through different mindsets. Detailed information is included for how to adapt this activity to synchronous and asynchronous settings.

Parkman discusses the importance of research and verification of information when presented with statements out of context. Her chapter reviews the opportunity for learners to generate conversations which are in line with their interests, enhancement of interpersonal skills and formation of evidence-based opinions.

Salim encourages us to consider the importance of providing learners the opportunity to develop their ability to form and present arguments in and knowledge and evidence-based manner through the use of “True or False”. This idea encourages active engagement in learners, with particular focus on substantiating responses regardless of support for the topic. Salim provides a comprehensive list of examples for transferring these skills to different contexts.


Reflection is often seen as a way to evolve and develop oneself to learn from our mistakes and do things differently next time. Zubizarreta (2009) emphasises how reflective thinking and judgment are effective stimuli to deep, lasting learning. This section explores how reflection activities and models that facilitate active learning can develop students as reflective practitioners.

Hancock  puts forward the DUCK (Describe, Understand, Change, Keep, Share) model to aid students in understanding the stages of reflection. She provides practical tips on how to adopt this practice in the physical classroom or via digital means using a Miro board or Google drawings to create simple drag and drop activities.

From a slightly different perspective Mellon explores how to facilitate reflective practice through triadic reflective dialogue. Using the guided conversation approach to encourage reflection in a safe environment.

Rhodes  discusses her practice of using strategically placed ‘Pause’ activities before, during and after to encourage reflection in her postgraduate module for staff new to teaching in Higher Education. Her overall aim of using this reflective approach is to encourage inclusive practice in her students.

In summary within this section, the reader will be offered a range of practical active learning approaches that encourage student reflection with step by step guidance and tips on adopting the practice outlined.

Work, Employability and Partnerships

Barnett and Coate (2005) state that by acting out the practices of a discipline students become the author of their own actions. This section explores active learning from a workplace skills perspective. Although there is commonality in the skills authors are trying to engender within their students, there are a variety of approaches that the reader may find useful.

Heard-Laureote and Field  share their approach to enhancing employability skills through a second-year module on the Politics and International Relations undergraduate programme. The practical assessments methods implemented encourage creative thinking, problem solving, strategic planning, team working and delegating skills.

Bringing the curriculum to life through collaborative partnership and authentic learning experiences is central to Johnston’s chapter. By embedding live collaborative briefs into the curriculum she discusses how this highlights real-world applications of knowledge and skills.

Pantrey-Mayer describes a Persona-based project where learners complete a brief in groups, developing problem solving, team working, resilience and many other professional skills.

The Diamond Nine active learning technique shared by Perkins helps students understand and engage with graduate attributes and articulate them to future employees. Pinnick explores using role play to help students explore ideas of professionalism preparing them for work-based settings.

In summary this section offers a number of different practical approaches for developing professional and discipline skills in students with guidance on how to transfer to other areas.


Barnett, R., & Coate, K. (2005). Engaging the higher curriculum in higher education. SRHE & Open University Press.

eLene4Life. (2020). Dynamic toolkit. eLene Network. https://elene4life.eu/dynamic-toolkit/

Miri, B., David, B. C., & Uri, Z. (2007). Purposely teaching for the promotion of higher-order thinking skills: A case of critical thinking. Research in Science Education 37, 353–369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-006-9029-2

Nägele, C., Stalder, B.E. (2017). Competence and the need for transferable skills. In: M. Mulder, M. (Ed.) Competence-based vocational and professional education (pp. 739-753). Technical and Vocational Education and Training: Issues, Concerns and Prospects (Vol. 23.) Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-41713-4_34

World Economic Forum. (2020). The future of jobs report 2020. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2020

Zubizarreta, J. (2009) The learning portfolio: Reflective practice for improving student learning (2nd ed.). John Wiley and Sons.

About the Authors

Richard works in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP) and teaches on Ulster University’s First Steps to Teaching and their Masters of Education (HE). He is the lead for the Learning Landscapes project in which active learning is at its core. He has worked in HE for 15 years and prior to joining CHERP worked in the University’s Digital Learning department for 11 years. Richard is the chair of the ALT Active Learning Special Interest Group.

Tab Betts is a Lecturer in Higher Education Pedagogy at the University of Sussex. He is co-founder and institutional co-lead for the Active Learning Network (ALN). For many years, he has been promoting evidence-based approaches to active learning in higher education and the use of learning technologies to create inclusive blended learning environments and facilitate large-scale collaboration. He has won a number of awards, including  six awards for Outstanding or Innovative Teaching and a 2021 Global Academic Development Good Practice Award with the ALN.

Matt Parkman is an Instructional Designer who aims to create fun and interactive educational content, with the learner at heart. He found himself drawn to learning technology and instructional design to create content learners wanted to engage with, rather than feeling they had to.


3a Academic Reading and Writing Skills


Student writing retreats: spaces to actively enable the production of academic work

Dr Chris Little


Image from above of 5 Laptops being used in a collaborative space with a large wooden table

What is the idea?

Structured writing retreats have become a staple of academic development provision across UK higher education, offering academics and research students a space to work productively, consolidate their identities as writers and build collaborative networks amongst peers (Casey et al., 2013; Moore, 2003; Murray & Newton, 2009; Papen & Theriault, 2018; Swaggerty et al., 2011). However, as yet, they are rarely, if ever, offered to undergraduate and postgraduate-taught students.

This idea will explore provision I worked on from 2016-2021, while working at Keele University. Within the learning development team I worked in, I piloted writing retreats for undergraduate and postgraduate-taught students. We found them to provide an active and safe space for students to construct knowledge and make academic progress.

Why this idea?

The learning development team had attempted to provide a range of provision to support undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate-taught (PGT) students with their dissertations. These students tended to be frequent users of the university’s individual academic practice tuition service and the team wanted to find a way of connecting them and supporting them in a different way. Despite our best efforts, the various workshops and café drop ins we provided had virtually no engagement.

Structured writing retreats are often provided by central academic development units across the UK HE sector. They provide spaces for staff and research students to make progress towards substantive writing projects, whilst providing a space to network too. Writing retreats range in their format from single day on-campus retreats, to multi-day residential provision. The retreats break down a day of writing into a small number of writing blocks, with discussion amongst peers before and after these blocks where colleagues share goals for the session and review progress. Research around writing retreats has found many benefits to attending them, from improved productivity, efficiency and motivation, through to more complex consolidation of colleagues self-identification as ‘writers’ (Casey et al., 2013; Moore, 2003; Murray & Newton, 2009; Papen & Theriault, 2018; Swaggerty et al., 2011). Despite writing retreats offering so much to staff and researchers, they are rarely, if ever, offered to UG and PGT students.

Fortuitously, I happened to attend a structured writing retreat provided for staff by the university’s academic development team and found the experience to be eye opening and rewarding. In one day of structured writing time I was able to achieve my writing goals and network with colleagues from across the university, many of whom have remained friends to this day. Then I decided that students deserved to have these opportunities too and began providing them for undergraduate and PGT students.

In direct contrast to our previous variety of workshops and tuition, the writing retreats proved to be incredibly popular with students for a range of reasons. Students reported that they were able to produce far more written work than they normally would do, due to the environment of the retreat itself and the time constraints of the writing slots. Students also share their goals for each writing session with a peer in the room, not always someone they know, and discuss their progress against these goals after each writing slot. This positive accountability proves to be a great motivator for students, focussing their work. Finally, the writing retreats were found to be beneficial for students with additional learning needs. Retreats provide a calm, private and friendly environment to complete work, compared to the usual activity and noise levels of shared computer rooms that most universities have.

How could others implement this idea?

Delivering a writing retreat is easy, whether that is within a formal curriculum (i.e. using a lecturer slot to provide a space for writing) or offering optional retreats for students on a sign-up basis. Once you have your audience it is all about facilitating discussion of goals amongst participants and silent writing time, followed by a recap.

  • Stage 1 – Goal-setting (10-20 mins): Instruct participants to decide on some SMART goals for the first writing block and to share them with a peer. Encourage them to offer constructive feedback on whether the goals are achievable or measurable. Student participants often commented anecdotally that they found it helpful when I shared what I intended to achieve in the upcoming writing block and reported back on my own progress. Use this time for your own writing too.
  • Stage 2 – Silent writing (60-90 mins): Inform participants of the duration of the writing block and enforce silent working with no food being consumed during the writing time. Give participants a warning when the session is 5 minutes from ending. Ensure that participants actually stop when the writing block is over.
  • Stage 3 – Debrief (10-20 mins): Facilitate a discussion in pairs again of their progress against those targets before bringing together for a group plenary on how they found the process.

Transferability to different contexts

This could be transferred to virtually any discipline which requires substantive written projects. Indeed, at Keele University, the success of student writing retreats led to them becoming timetabled and embedded parts of curriculum in Midwifery, Social Work, Physiotherapy and others.

Links to tools and resources

Examples of the schedules of structured writing retreats can be found in several key writing retreat papers, but notably in the works of Murray (2008), Petrova and Coughlin (2012) and Tremblay-Wragg et al. (2021). I would wholeheartedly recommend attending one, especially as many sector-wide bodies, such as AdvanceHE, now offer them for schemes like AdvanceHE Fellowships too.


Casey, B., Barron, C., & Gordon, E. (2013). Reflections on an in-house academic writing retreat. All Ireland Journal of Higher Education, 5(1).

Moore, S. (2003). Writers’ retreats for academics: Exploring and increasing the motivation to write. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(3), 333-342. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877032000098734

Murray, R. (2008). Writer’s retreat: reshaping academic writing practices. Educational Developments, 9(2), 14-15.

Murray, R., & Newton, M. (2009). Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream? Higher Education Research & Development, 28(5), 541-553. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360903154126

Papen, U., & Thériault, V. (2018). Writing retreats as a milestone in the development of PhD students’ sense of self as academic writers. Studies in Continuing Education, 40(2), 166-180. https://doi.org/10.1080/0158037X.2017.1396973

Petrova, P., & Coughlin, A. (2012). Using structured writing retreats to support novice researchers. International Journal for Researcher Development, 3(1), 79-88. https://doi.org/10.1108/17597511211278661

Swaggerty, E., Atkinson, T., Faulconer, J. & Griffith, R. (2011). Academic writing retreat: A time for rejuvenated and focused writing. The Journal of Faculty Development, 25(1), 5-11.

Tremblay-Wragg, É., Mathieu Chartier, S., Labonté-Lemoyne, É., Déri, C., & Gadbois, M. E. (2021). Writing more, better, together: How writing retreats support graduate students through their journey. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(1), 95-106. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2020.1736272

Image Attribution

Laptops photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr Chris Little works in MMU’s University Teaching Academy as a Senior Lecturer across all aspects of provision. Prior to joining MMU, Chris worked as a Learning Developer at Keele University where he offered teaching and curriculum design consultancy, alongside learning development workshops and individual tuition provision for students of all levels.


Dissertation speed dating

Dr Jessica Clare Hancock


Three Wooden outdoor garden chairs, one red, one orange and one blue, sitting on black brick floor with a sandstone wall behind them

What is the idea?

Students find writing their dissertation intimidating, as it is an isolating process, and also often because they’re not quite sure what the overall focus of their research is. This fun, sociable activity, which is like ‘speed dating’ for students who are writing dissertations or extended projects, allows them to develop a clear articulation of their central thesis, enabling them to gain confidence in their ideas.

Students are paired up, sit in a row of chairs facing each other, and the facilitator tells them to start. One of the pair begins and has two minutes to tell the other person about their idea for their dissertation. The facilitator will signal the end of the two minutes (perhaps with a buzzer) and the other person will then be given two minutes to communicate the focus of their dissertation. After the end of these two minutes, one person from each of the pairs will move to a new pairing, and the process will be repeated.

Why this idea?

Many students find writing their dissertation intimidating (Hill et al, 2011; Huang, 2007) – it is often the first time they have undertaken research, or produced such a long piece of writing. Two key issues within the dissertation period are 1) the difficulty in keeping research focused to a central idea (Anderson et al, 2006) and 2) the isolated nature of this work (Manathunga & Goozee, 2007) which is often carried out with limited contact with a supervisor, and no group classes enabling peer support. The benefits, of an active-learning, group-based approach, are combating some of the loneliness experienced during a dissertation period, as well as enabling students to move away from just solo writing, into verbal discussion which can result in a different approach to their work. Talking through their dissertation with others provides the vital opportunity to practice, learning through making mistakes in their summaries, in a much lower-stake environment than with their supervisor – it thus includes elements of ‘doing’, ‘making sense’ and ‘feedback’ which have been suggested by Race (2014) as crucial to learning.

To address the first problem, a repeated articulation of a student’s research idea within a time limit means that their ideas become more concrete and more coherent. Being asked to provide an overview of their research several times means that each student becomes more confident about its key focus, and can identify areas needing further exploration or increase their awareness of how to structure their ideas. Often students’ initial reactions to their first few turns are that the time went really quickly, and they didn’t manage to mention a particular aspect, or they realised that they had left out a main point after the buzzer went. As the activity continues, students are able to provide a more concise version of their idea, leaving out extraneous material and concentrating on the crux of the matter – perhaps their central question and crucial aspects of their methodology. This more polished verbal overview leads to clarity in their own minds, and having a clear sense of purpose about the overall focus transfers into their dissertation writing meaning that they are able to use the word count more efficiently.

The reactions from students to the activity are overwhelmingly positive. In particular, students get excited about connections between their research and others’ projects – particularly in larger cohorts where they may not have realised that someone was using a similar approach or method, or examining a related issue. The connections that are established during the session are often followed up on, so that students have a range of peer support and an outlet for sharing their research progress; these associations counteract the possible experience of dissertation writing as a lonely pursuit.

How could others implement this idea?

In its simplest form of face-to-face teaching, students sit in a row of chairs facing each other. When the time limit for both people is up, the people in one row move down one seat. Clear instructions are crucial at this point – an approach that works well is to tell everyone on one side to stand up, and then direct them to move one seat to the right, indicating the direction clearly and showing the person on the seat at the end that they need to walk back around to the far left chair in the row. Allowing for four or five changes of partner, the activity would take around 30 minutes (with extra time for moving around the room).

In an online session, it would be very complicated to create breakout rooms that ensured a different pairing each time without long delays during the change of pairings. Instead, you could do random allocations of pairings. If pairings are repeated, it doesn’t matter too much – it means that students have fewer opportunities to hear about others’ research, but they still benefit from repeating their own project articulation. Students are also likely to find it useful if they are encouraged to reflect afterwards about how the other person in their pair changed their verbalisation of their ideas in a subsequent meeting.

In either setting, as a final exercise, to increase the opportunities for hearing about the research of all the cohort, some simple way of sharing their research ideas could be set up, such as a forum post of no more than 100 words which provides an overview of their dissertation. This would also provide a way to move from talking about their research to writing about it, in a less formal way than when they tackle a draft of their dissertation.

The activity works well at the beginning of a dissertation module, and it can also be useful to repeat it either part way through, or towards the end to maintain the focus on the dissertation’s key ideas. It could be adapted to focus on specific elements – by asking students to just talk about either the key literature supporting their research, their methodology, or the highlights of their findings.

This strategy can be readily applied to a range of alternative scenarios. For example, you could ask students to each read a research article, and then use this speed-dating technique as a way for them to share the details of the research article with each other which would a) provide practice in their summarising skills and b) enable them to benefit from an overview of a range of research articles.


Anderson, C., Day, K., & McLaughlin, P. (2006). Mastering the dissertation: lecturers’ representations of the purposes and processes of Master’s level dissertation supervision. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 149-168. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070600572017

Hill, J., Kneale, P., Nicholson, D., Waddington, S., & Ray, W. (2011). Re-framing the geography dissertation: a consideration of alternative, innovative and creative approaches. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 35(3), 331-349. https://doi.org/10.1080/03098265.2011.563381

Huang, R. (2007). A challenging but worthwhile experience! – Asian international student perspectives of undertaking a dissertation in the UK, Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education, 6(1), 29-30. https://doi.org/10.3794/johlste.61.130

Manathunga, C., & Goozee, J. (2007). Challenging the dual assumption of the ‘always/already’ autonomous student and effective supervisor. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(3), 309–322. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510701278658

Race, P. (2014). Making learning happen (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Image Attribution

Three Chairs photo by Lennart Nacke on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr Jessica Hancock is Head of Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester, where she is programme lead for the MA in Learning and Teaching in HE, and CASTLE (Celebration and Recognition Scheme for Teaching and Learning Expertise – supporting HEA fellowship applications). She has published on academic writing, and compassionate and identity-focused approaches to developing teaching in HE.


Making report writing 'active'

Dr Wendy Garnham

Illustration of a report being completed with a hand holding a pencil. There is a coffee cup and calculator beside the report.

What is the idea?

This chapter will present the active report writing project that I have been using with students studying my foundation year module on Social Psychology. Report writing can often be seen as a “dry” and formulaic exercise. Making report writing more of an active endeavour, that empowers students to be more creative and innovative underlay this project.

Why this idea?

When we ask students to conduct research and write a report on it, we tend to give them a question, give them instructions for how to conduct the research, how to write it up etc.- it is all tutor led with very little option for students to show their creative potential or to tailor the report to their own interests. Moreover, in assessments of this nature, students often leave it until the last minute to complete it, meaning the mountain of meltdowns set in. This project enables students both to invest their own creativity into the assessment and also breaks the task down into manageable chunks across the term, with each chunk linked to a formative feedback opportunity. It allows students to learn by doing, encourages them to seek support and implement feedback to help them develop as independent learners.

How could others implement this idea?

The active report writing method follows five key steps: Conversation in the café, Sling your hook. Down the Rabbit Hole, Playing Detective and Be a Rembrandt.

1. Conversation in the café – idea generation

Students are initially introduced to the assignment brief: to conduct a content analysis. For the first step, students should select an area of the module syllabus that interests them and then generate as many different questions about that as they can think of. What questions do they have about that area? What do they think would think, it would be interesting to explore? They are encouraged to talk to friends and family, to share their ideas and to imagine a conversation in a cafe. If they were talking about the area of the syllabus that interests them, what questions might their friend raise? How would they respond and would they themselves have any question to raise for their friend in return? The emphasis is very much on generating ideas. Whether or not these are ideas that they take forward for the final analysis doesn’t matter at this stage. Towards the end of this stage, students individually document their flurry of ideas in a conversation collage which can be as creative as they like.

2. Sling your hook – hooking evidence to ideas

Students look back at their collage and select one of the questions they generated to take forward for their content analysis. It must be a question that can be tested using content analysis. Their task is now to explore the literature to find out what is already known about the content of that question. What has already been done? Where are there gaps in our knowledge? The idea is that students aim to “hook” evidence onto their ideas. Students document their findings in an annotated bibliography table, showcasing their referencing skills on the left and making brief notes about what they are taking from the article/book to use in their research. Is there evidence that links to their ideas? If so, what is it? If not, will they take that idea forward or omit it?

3. Down the rabbit hole – formulating an introduction

In Alice in Wonderland, one scene shows Alice falling down a rabbit hole, moving from a broad opening, to a narrow tunnel. This analogy is used to explain the next stage of the report writing process. How does this work? Having completed their annotated bibliography, students have to do something useful or constructive with what they found from the academic literature. This stage requires them to organise their findings to create a rationale or introduction to their content analysis. Why is their study needed, given what went before? How does it help to progress our understanding further? What gap will it fill? They should start with a broad introduction to the area they are studying and narrow down to lead naturally into their own study. Students work together to look at examples in the literature that they found to give them a clearer idea of how it works. It is also useful to give students some random extracts from an introduction and ask them to order these so that the story moves from broad to specific in terms of the journey it takes the reader on. Following this chance to engage in active learning, students then individually try to work on their own introduction to their research. Their introduction should end with a clear and precise prediction about what they will find in their content analysis.

4. Playing detective – analysing the evidence

Stage 4 is all about conducting the content analysis. Just as a detective will look for evidence, students now do the same. Students collect together examples to analyse. What the examples will be will depend on what the student is investigating but they could be TV adverts, political speeches, lonely hearts advertisements, children’s cartoons etc. They decide on a coding scheme to use to analyse the examples, i.e. what will they look for in the examples that will help them to answer their question? Often their exploration of previous research will give them some ideas here. They then analyse the examples they have collected to look for patterns or trends.

5. Be a Rembrandt. – painting a picture of what the evidence suggests

The final stage of the process is where the student “paints a picture” of what they did and what they found in the form of a research poster. They have already written the introduction or rationale but now they add to this by outlining the method (what examples they used, how they selected them, what coding scheme they used), the results (a graph or a table to show any patterns or trends, or the lack of!) and a discussion (outlining what their interpretation of their results means in the context of existing research in this area). This can seem like an unsurmountable task at first but to help students understand what is required, we give them access to a Padlet wall which contains examples of research posters used by members of the School of Psychology. Students are encouraged to work together to look at these and comment on what they liked about particular posters, which ones stood out for them and why? This helps them to develop as critical thinkers as well as being able to see the task being modelled by established academics.

Transferability to different contexts

Anyone who uses report writing as an assessment tool may be interested. Although we used this in psychology, it is not necessarily discipline dependent. It is possible to extend this further by holding virtual poster conferences where others, such others such as staff teaching on similar modules, can look at the posters as they would in a face to face conference and ask questions on these.

It is also possible, at each stage, to build in formative assessment opportunities. For example, at stage 1, peer assessment could be used to comment on things such as the range of ideas, the relevance to the topic area and the presentation. At stage 2, feedback could be given on referencing using a tick box method. At stage 3, students could be encouraged to self-assess using a checklist (which in turn can be created from a class discussion). Stage 5 lends itself nicely to a peer assessment exercise such as a virtual poster display.

Links to tools and resources

A similar approach was used to make essay writing active: see chapter 1 of this publication: https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/vm40xt05h

Image Attribution

Data analysis accountant by mohamed_hassan from Pixabay

About the Author

Dr Wendy Garnham is a Reader in Psychology at Sussex and  the Director of Student Experience for the Central Foundation Year programmes. She is also a National Teaching Fellow. Her career has spanned teaching at all levels of the educational spectrum from reception through to postgraduate. Her interest in active learning is borne out of the experiences she has had with each of the groups and individuals she teaches. Wendy loves having fun in teaching and learning because she believes strongly this is how we learn best.


Co-writing: pedagogies supporting co-operative thinking

Dr Andrew Middleton


Writing-based collaborative activities can be used as a conversational space for learning. Ideas that exemplify this approach include students co-creating guidance documents to capture findings from inquiry-based learning, using Chat channels purposefully to resolve a problem, annotating digital artefacts collaboratively, creating glossaries, and running a ‘book sprint’ as an active and immersive writing retreat (Heller & Brinken, 2018).

This chapter considers approaches explored in a sharing practice workshop at the Global Festival of Active Learning 2021. The workshop itself used co-writing, epitomising co-operative networked authorship (Johnston, 2010; Middleton, 2018) – an idea with far reaching potential. Together we considered what we have done, the benefits of such generative pedagogies, the practical considerations, and what more we could do. We considered how writing can be equally quiet or furious social activities, and how our familiarity with the act of writing can be used to promote inclusion and the development of a supportive learning community.

This chapter summarises what was discussed and produced, and is aimed at academic innovators interested in designing inclusive active and collaborative methods for a hybrid learning context.

What is co-writing?

Co-writing describes situations in which people access and edit the same document at the same time. This can be achieved using common software like Microsoft Word or Google Documents. The same approach can be taken with other file types including presentations, spreadsheets, and digital whiteboards. The use of wikis in education raises many of the same possibilities and questions, however, their use tends to be more fragmented as often different pages in a wiki building assignment are given to different individuals or groups, with sites being constructed from disassociated pages (Boulos et al., 2006; Su & Beaumont, 2010). As a result, the research and presentation of ideas through a student-generated wiki site can lack a sense of collective thinking and synthesis. In contrast, this chapter emphasises situations in which the student authors place their cursors in the same document because doing so demands interactivity and avoids the simpler trick of assembling disparate writings together in a disjointed fashion. Therefore, fundamental to co-writing is a commitment to co-creativity and the social co-construction of knowledge.

Such activities can happen synchronously, asynchronously, or multichronously. Multichronicity highlights how a document creates a learning space which can be accessed (like a room) at the same time or over time, on your own or with others. In this way, the shared document can be thought of as a familiar collaborative learning space in which ideas can be developed with others fluidly.

Engagement with such learning activities reveals something in general for active learning: without contradiction, immersive activities can be fast, loud and intense, but they can also be quiet, considered and personalised. The energetic co-creation of a product through synchronous activity leads to an extended, even persistent or latent value in the object being created. Therefore, co-writing activities should be designed with understanding of the immediate value of co-creation within the writing space and the value associated with acts of preparation and later acts of using what has been produced: creating knowledge, articulating knowledge, applying knowledge.

Some examples of this include: the co-creation of group lab books for writing up experiments together; case-based research in which evidence is gathered and interrogated together; collaborative portfolios in which artefacts are first assembled before being elaborated upon through co-writing, and then presented or published.

A shift to co-writing as an academic exercise, from tasks which may have hitherto been assigned to individuals, implicitly expands the potential learning outcomes because, as with many active learning pedagogies, the task introduces a need to negotiate learning and give and receive intrinsic feedback within the act itself.

Co-writing activities are versatile and, given the options they provide around time, task, and learner location, co-writing is best approached as a space for learning rather than a specific academic writing method.

Why is co-writing useful?

The value of co-writing is that it gives a writing task academic purpose and authenticity, removing it from a purely abstract academic domain. Authenticity, in this case, reflects the sense of common purpose in the task itself and the practical focus of such writing, for example, as an outcome of a collaborative activity or inquiry. Co-writing also has the advantages of it being a negotiated act.

As a learning space, the document can be used in many ways. For example, the teacher could set up documents beforehand to guide a group’s thinking around co-creating an artefact, for example structuring the activity around a topic and subtopics, or related questions. Alternatively, the co-writers could be asked to begin their task by negotiating a structure and methods that will work for them as a design for achieving their research goals. Either way, collaborators are involved in making decisions about how to research and how to write in a shared space, and it requires that they dive deep into the task to develop and agree their methods and bounds.

Writing, editing and agreeing what should be produced introduces collaborative processes that begin by considering possibilities in a structured way before converging around decisions that reflect the knowledge, interests and skills of all participants.

How can co-writing be used?

In this section, I briefly introduce three co-writing assignments. I will then reflect on some of the issues that need to be considered when using such a collaborative space.

1. Producing guidance

I use this approach regularly as a community of enhancement approach to developing good academic practice. Academic participants have gone on to use it with their students.

The challenge of producing guidance requires the authors to have a thorough understanding of the process they are explaining. They need to define and understand their specific audience. This knowledge and sense of audience adds to the authenticity of the task: the authors must write with authority based upon their experience and research and the quality of the authors’ engagement is shaped by the artefact having actual users in mind. Further, the task represents a common scenario that is likely to be encountered by the graduate later in their professional life. The formative assessment is authentic too: a guidance document can be tested on, and by, its intended audience.

Setting out a process should be a straightforward matter for the co-authors. They will need to explain to each other what they did themselves. This creates a well-defined, goal-centred activity as they analyse and compare in detail their own experiences of the process.

Processes often benefit from annotated diagrams or photographs and adding these to a guidance document can extend its value to authors and readers alike. Processes, like recipes, tend to be brief and highly structured. In a large class, groups can build a collection of different but related process documents for their mutual benefit.

2. Glossaries, FAQs and encyclopaedias

Co-writing glossaries or frequently asked question documents (FAQs) is an authentic assessment where students are involved in project-based or research-informed learning activities. Such activities can be brief and focused on a specific activity, or extended to a unit of study, or even a whole course. Students have created whole online encyclopaedias this way, pulling together and presenting current disciplinary research, for example on Linguistics or Medical Science (Middleton, 2018). Such ambitious challenges can be highly motivating and acquire great kudos, and this can attract and be passed down to new students.

3. Co-writing as a research space

A shared document, more than a writing instrument, can be considered as an accessible space; a room in which dispersed participants can come together. Think about who you would like to involve and how you would facilitate the meeting as a research activity, and the benefits of participating in the meeting to the subjects as co-authors.

Creating a barebones structure around a subset of headings or questions can help to focus the minds of those who ‘join’ the document. I recently ran a series of workshops about reflecting on innovation in the pandemic. I created two document ‘spaces’, one headed ‘War Stories’ and the other ‘Pushing the Boundaries’. While both spaces were related, they were different enough to prompt and collate examples of resilient innovative practice and future thinking while the activity was founded on recognising that all participants had valuable experiences to share and build upon.


In conclusion, I reflect on what we expect of writing in the academic domain and what the value is in the act of writing.

In co-writing, the addition of the social context is significant. The metaphoric notion of document as a familiar room is also important; it signals that process, negotiation and the affordances of the space should be appreciated, at least as much as the more usual idea of a document being an end in itself.

Writing has many purposes in academia and different conventions and styles come into play. This should be clear to students in such activities. In the case of co-writing activities, the writing style is likely to be determined by the needs and expectations of the intended audience. The students’ tutor as assessor will not always be the primary audience, and this should be discussed and made clear.

Time for the students to prepare, write, and use or publish the knowledge in focus should be considered when approaching co-writing as a pedagogy. The academic should be clear about how such activities sit within the learning and in relation to other contexts in which the writing may be used. In a book sprint co-writing activity, for example, the idea of a tangible book being held and used by ‘real world’ readers may be so motivating that it may inadvertently obscure the academic context and distort its academic purpose and assessment.

The co-writing space has proven to be a versatile student-centred active learning space during the 2020-22 pandemic. It has accommodated students in highly motivating authentic activities in many disciplines. A familiar space, academics have demonstrated their ingenuity in devising both short and long challenges that result in substantial resources for readers and authors alike and, as academics have come across the techniques, co-writing pedagogies have proliferated.


Boulos, M.N.K., Maramba, I., & Wheeler, S. (2006). Wikis, blogs and podcasts: A new generation of web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education. BMC Medical Education, 6(41), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-6-41

Heller, L., & Brinken, H. (2018, November 20). How to run a book sprint – in 16 steps. Impact of Social Sciences. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2018/11/20/how-to-run-a-book-sprint-in-16-steps/

Johnston, M. (2010). The photobook club. http://photobookclub.org/

Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education. Palgrave Learning & Teaching.

Su, F., & Beaumont, C. (2010). Evaluating the use of a wiki for collaborative learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(4), 417-431, https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2010.518428

About the Author

Andrew Middleton is a National Teaching Fellow committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.


The new Journal Club: a student-led discussion

Dr Sophie Rutschmann and Dr Malgorzata Trela

What is the idea?

Throughout their higher education, students are expected to develop their ability to engage critically with the forefront of their discipline. Inspired by the medical and scientific biomedical communities, Journal Clubs are authentic ways to learn about up-to-date developments in the field, learn from more experienced scientists and practice critical analysis skills (Golde, 2007; Lee et al., 2005). However, when used in the classroom, the traditional Journal Club format relying on the presentation of the paper by one or few individual(s) rarely leads to full engagement by the rest of the class (Hartlaub, 1999). Our Journal Club format puts the onus on students to chair small discussion groups, therefore placing the discursive and learning opportunities back at the heart of the session.

Why this idea?

Journal Clubs are a great way to critically engage with the published literature and keep abreast with the forefront of fast-moving disciplines. When done within the scientific community, they require all to come to the session having read the article and prepared to ask questions, show scepticism, share knowledge and critically analyse claims made by the authors (Golde, 2007). However, in a classroom, Journal Clubs are often a sleek presentation by a group of students to an often passive audience which might have read the paper and at best ask some clarifying questions. Tired of this approach which provided limited opportunities for critical engagement, the format of our Journal Club was revisited to make it entirely student-led and discursive.

How could others implement this idea?

The following guidelines were written for our Masters programme of around 35 students divided in small groups of 5-6. They have been used both for campus and online teaching, with the help of online breakout spaces for the latter.

The Journal Club is chaired by one small group who chooses a published article they want to discuss with the rest of the class. The article should be relatively recent, on a relevant subject and ideally conceptually challenging, but not too much. Guidance on important aspects when choosing the article is provided to the chairing group (technical complexity, journal of origin, length, etc).

A week before their session, the chairing group circulates the article for all other students to read in their own time and answer the prompting questions below in preparation of the synchronous session. The chairing group can add some specific questions but the ones below provide a starting framework for critical engagement with the content of the article and the students’ broader knowledge.

  1. What is the paper about?
  2. What are the three main claims?
  3. Do you think the authors convincingly demonstrate their claims?
  4. What and why, in your opinion, is the most important figure of the paper?
  5. If any, what is the biggest technical/experimental issue?
  6. If you were the lab conducting the study, what experiment would you do next?

During the synchronous Journal Club session, each chairing student joins one non-chairing small group to discuss the paper in depth. The chairing student first gives an informal 10 min overview of the paper to start the discussion. They subsequently ensure that the discussion is about the paper, progresses along the prompting questions, that all in the group are participating, and that the limitations of the paper are discussed in a critical manner. All groups are regularly visited by the academics overseeing the session to provide some insight from a more experienced point of view. The session finishes with a class-wide discussion of the points raised in the various groups.

Transferability to different contexts

The approach is easily transferable to any programme which runs a Journal Club or to any data interpretation/paper critique session. It requires very little preparation for the tutor who only needs to read the paper prior to the session and contribute their critical thoughts during the synchronous event.


Golde, C. M., (2007). Signature pedagogies in doctoral education: Are they adaptable for the preparation of education researchers? Educational Researcher, 36(6), 344-351. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X07308301

Hartlaub, P. P., (1999). A new approach to the journal club. Academic Medicine, 74(5), 607-608. https://doi.org/10.1097/00001888-199905000-00084

Lee, A. G., Boldt, H. C., Golnik, K. C., Arnold A. C., Oetting, T. A., Beaver, H. A., Olson, R. J., & Carter, K. (2005). Using the journal club to teach and assess competence in practice-based learning and improvement: A Literature Review and Recommendation for Implementation. Survey of Ophthalmology, 50(6), 542-548. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.survophthal.2005.08.002

About the Authors

Dr Sophie Rutschmann is the Programme Director for Imperial College MSc in Immunology and the Faculty of Medicine Academic Lead for Digital Education. She is interested in teaching and learning of Critical Thinking, the development of a professional identity and how experiential learning can be transferred to the classroom.

Dr Maggie Trela is the Teaching Fellow for Imperial College MSc in Immunology and the Departmental Disability Officer for the Department of Immunology & Inflammation. She is interested in teaching that supports the learning journey of students from all walks of life and backgrounds ensuring that science is communicated effectively and inclusively to all learners.


I’m (not) an academic … get me out of here!

Paul Stevens


I’m (not) an academic … get me out of here! is a reading workshop in development at Solent University Southampton. It is run primarily with second-year media production undergraduates (mostly 19- to 20-year-olds).

The workshop promotes high-quality academic reading through active learning. The problem is that students are not reading — research tells us 27 per cent of expectations is a high estimate — and they are afraid to engage with some of the reading university-level study requires. So, this workshop offers an active learning approach to getting students reading high-quality academic sources, understanding their structure, and helping them with comprehension, interpretation, paraphrasing, synthesis, but above all boosting their confidence.


In academia, we see academic reading as purposeful and critical for our students, but we also understand it is challenging (Gorzycki et al., 2019). One obstacle is that students can believe they are better at it than they really are (Gorzycki et al. 2019). This ‘Dunning-Kruger-esque’ situation (Kruger & Dunning, 1999) can lead to an inflated sense of ability in some, combined with a fear of how challenging it will be in others.

So, the initial objective was to develop a classroom-based activity promoting and scaffolding high-quality academic reading through active learning (Ryan, 2006). The workshop addresses a specific problem we identified, i.e. students were not reading at the level they needed to in order to write at the level we required of them.

This workshop facilitates students reading high-quality academic sources, understanding their structure, helping them with comprehension, interpretation, paraphrasing, and synthesis. But above all, it boosts their confidence, as they realise over time that they can understand texts they previously thought they could not.

The key to achieving this is collaborative interrogation of what they are reading. What it purposely does not ask students to do is decipher a whole document on their own: they work on a section of the whole text, while classmates work on other parts.

The students end the workshop by pooling what they have discovered, so that each individual student ultimately arrives at an understanding of the whole text, without having read it all.

We now have both anecdotal and grade-based evidence that improving the quality of the texts students engage with also improves the quality of their subsequent academic writing, as they seek out higher-quality sources than perhaps they would have done, and apply what they read to their practical work, and synthesise it into formative and summative reflections on that work.

An example text that I have used for my second-year undergraduates can be found in the references, below.

The module’s summative assessments were to:

(a) create an audio-based experience via an app (a bit like a soundwalk); and

(b), write a critical reflection about the process, including what informed it, what was learned, what went well, what went less well, what should be done differently on a future occasion, and why.

The workshops run three times per class in any given 12-week teaching period. How often you run it is up to you, as appropriate.

‘Too long, didn’t read’ (tldr) version; the idea is to make challenging academic writing ‘less scary’!


You will need:

(i) Sufficient hard copies of a ‘text’. This choice is crucial: challenging, but not so challenging students will be discouraged. They also need to connect what the text is about with something their studies require of them (Ryan 2006 in Baier et al 2011). The ‘text’ does not have to be factual, or even written: the workshop has been successfully delivered using audio, video and photographic media as ‘texts’.

(iii) A whiteboard (the bigger the better) divided up into however many sections you divide the text into (experience suggests four or five sections is more than enough).

(iv) er, there is no (iv): that is it!

Start by explaining not just what your students will do, but why they’ll do it. Research suggests nearly 90 per cent of students believe they can get a C, and just over 31 per cent think they can get an A, without doing any reading at all (Baier et al., 2011), so they might not initially see the point! Dunning-Kruger again?

First pass: individually or in groups, students highlight what they immediately ‘get’, and ignore (for now) what they do not get. They orally report to the class what they have discovered, and add quotes/paraphrases/key points to their section of the whiteboard.

Second pass: in groups, the students identify what they ‘sort of got’ the first time around, but were not absolutely sure about. The groups ‘drill down’ and discuss this content to arrive at conclusions. Again, they report back to the class and add more content to the whiteboard.

Third pass: the students, still in their groups, tackle the most challenging passages to arrive at an understanding of content they ‘think’ could be relevant, but still do not quite ‘get’ … yet! Again, they orally report back and add final content to the whiteboard.

It is important to stress to the students at all stages that it is far less important that they are ‘right’ and more important that they ‘have a go’ at decoding what the text is saying and be able to explain that in their own words.

Plenary: by the end the whiteboard should contain quotes/paraphrases, key concepts and explanations for each section of the text, which the students can photograph, and/or you as the teacher can capture the board’s content for the students.

Our students are then encouraged to read the whole text in their own time, and write about it informally in course blogs (which they must keep, and use in assessments, across their degree). You could devise similar subsequent activities as self-directed study and/or via follow-up in-class activities.


Researchers suggest ‘developing innovative techniques to ensure students are reading their assignments on a regular basis’ (Baier et al., 2011). Whether this is such a technique, modesty forbids: but it would be interesting to hear how you get on with it, especially if you adapt the undergraduate workshop for your college, sixth-form, secondary, primary, or even infant school!

And speaking of adapting, during the 2020-21 pandemic we teamed up with Talis Elevate (https://talis.com/talis-elevate/) and have ported the workshop to online delivery via Microsoft Teams and its channels/breakout rooms. Using Talis Elevate this way, students are able to access a digital version of a text uploaded by a lecturer, annotate it both individually (and anonymously if they choose) and as part of a group. They can also discuss and debate in the channels/breakout rooms.

Good luck with the workshop! Please check out the video below if you want to find out more.


One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=614#oembed-1

Video: https://vimeo.com/444892212

Example text:
Indans, R., Hauthal E, & Burghardt, D. (2018). Towards an audio-locative mobile application for immersive storytelling, Journal of Cartography and Geographic Information, 69, 41-50. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42489-019-00007-1


Baier, K., Hendricks, C., Warren-Gorden, K., Hendricks, J. E., & Cochran, L. (2011). College students’ textbook reading, or not! American Reading Forum Annual Yearbook (Vol. 31, pp. 4-11). http://americanreadingforum.org/yearbook/11_yearbook/documents/ BAIER%20ET%20AL%20PAPER.pdf

Gorzycki, M., Desa, G., Howard, P. J., & Allen, D. D. (2019). Reading is important, but ‘I don’t read’: Undergraduates’ experiences with academic reading. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 63(5), 499–508. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.1020

Kruger, J., & D. Dunning, (1999). Unskilled and unaware of It: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121-34. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.77.6.1121

Ryan, T. E., (2006). Motivating novice students to read their textbooks. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 33(2), 135–140.

About the Author

Before becoming a university lecturer, Paul worked in the creative industries for more than 25 years: as a newspaper reporter, sub-editor and later a radio presenter. He mainly teaches audio production, including radio, podcasting and sound design. Paul is researching podcasting and immersive audio for a possible PhD proposal.


Active essay writing: ten steps to success!

Dr Heather Taylor

What is the idea?

This chapter presents one approach to using the Active Essay Writing Programme (Taylor et al., 2019); an innovative approach we devised at the University of Sussex to support students in planning, preparing, and presenting original, insightful, and well-presented essays.

Why this idea?

From our experience, most students arrive at university with little-to-no understanding of how to approach essay assignments. If left unchecked, this can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and, in-turn, submitting incoherent and uninspired essays that do not accurately reflect their true potential. The Active Essay Writing Programme was designed to address these issues and make the task of completing essays more manageable and enjoyable for students.

How could others implement this idea?

To guide your students through this ten-step programme, you will need to create an example essay question that you can collaboratively answer with them. This will provide them with the opportunity to develop and subsequently apply the acquired skills to their own essay assignments.

Step 1:  Deconstruct the essay question

The first issue students sometimes face when approaching essay assignments is not fully understanding the question. This can result in them writing (potentially good) essays on completely the wrong topic! The first step is to therefore deconstruct the example essay question with your students, breaking it down into its component parts to ensure understanding and overcome any confusion.

Step 2: Generate ideas

Students are often under the misconception that before they can answer an essay question, they must read everything ever written on the topic. Their attempts to do this creates more confusion than it solves and, in turn, can result in submissions that are largely incoherent regurgitation of academic texts. Instead, we encourage our students to ‘think first’ to help them develop a focused strategy for identifying relevant literature to support their essays. To demonstrate this, ask your students to generate ideas, arguments and counterarguments that might help to answer the example essay question and add these to a mind map.

Step 3: Find evidence

After developing their own mind maps, students will need to see if evidence exists to support their ideas. To demonstrate this process, select some ideas from the example mind map and search for relevant reliable evidence.  If no evidence exists for certain ideas, important learning has still taken place; we know that these ideas are unsupported and should therefore not make it into an essay, and, in doing so, greater insight into the topic has been acquired.

Step 4: Critically evaluate the evidence

The type, style, and depth of critical evaluation will differ by discipline and your students’ level of study. In consideration of this, critically evaluate some of the sources identified for the example essay with your students to model the skills involved. While revisiting these sources, also be sure to take more detailed notes as these will be used at the next step.

Step 5: Get organised

Another stumbling block for our students lies in their assumption that there is one correct way to organise an essay. We alternatively encourage them to organise their essays based on their own narrative. To illustrate this, separate (either on paper or digitally) the ideas, summaries of evidence, and critical evaluations generated for the example essay and ask your students to organise this information in a way that makes sense to them. No two students will present the information in the same exact order, illustrating that multiple presentations can be ‘correct’.

Step 6: Flesh out the essay outline

The end-product of Step 5 is an essay outline, and so the natural next step is to develop paragraphs. The key here is to ensure that students are not wasting words through unconcise writing and/or inclusion of unnecessary detail, while still providing the reader with sufficient context for understanding the points being made. At this stage, it is also good idea to encourage students to cite and reference their sources as they go. Work on a couple of paragraphs with your students and/or provide them with examples of pre-made poorly written paragraphs and ask them to identify issues and edit accordingly.

Step 7: Introduce the essay

Unlike the main body of the essay, when illustrating how to format an informative introduction paragraph, we encourage our students to adhere to the following three rules:

  1. Set the scene by introducing the context and importance of the essay.
  2. Signpost the reader to the key points that well be considered.
  3. State the overall argument/ answer to the essay question so that the reader is made aware of this right from the start

Work collaboratively with your students to create an introduction paragraph for your example essay.

Step 8: Conclude the essay

Our main suggestion here is for students to go beyond simply summarising to synthesising the content of their essay. Using the example, encourage your students to take a step back and consider the essay in its entirety before working together to connect the main points and develop a take-home message for the reader.

Step 9: Check citations and references

As we encouraged students to cite and reference as they went along, the formatting of these may not be 100% correct. To ensure that your students understand how to format correctly, provide them with a guide and ask them to either apply it to specific sources used in your example essay or correct errors in pre-made examples.

Step 10: Proof-read

By this point students will have spent a great deal of effort panning, preparing, and presenting their essay – wouldn’t it be a shame if the reader could not understand it? To illustrate this, provide them with the example essay (or a select few paragraphs) full of typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors for them to correct, so that they can see first-hand the difference between an unchecked first draft versus a carefully proof-read and edited submission.


Taylor, H., Garnham, W.A. & Ormerod, T. (2019). Active essay writing: Encouraging independent research through conversation. In T. Betts, W. A. Garnham, & P. Oprandi (Eds.) Disrupting traditional pedagogy: Active learning in practice. University of Sussex Library. https://doi.org/10.20919/9780995786240

About the Author

After several years working as a Doctoral Tutor,  Dr Heather Taylor was appointed in 2019 as a Teaching-Focused Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sussex. Since then, Heather has convened two Foundation Year Psychology modules and taught on other Undergraduate Psychology modules. Within her role, Heather has focused heavily on developing her students’ academic skills via active-learning approaches and has been appointed the Head of Attainment for the School of Psychology. 


3b Critical Thinking


OPV: Other People’s Views

Robert Hickey and Shaun Ferns

What is the idea?

Have students look at a topic/situation/scenario from Other People’s Views (OPV) as a way to engage and learn. This is a role-playing activity, which can enable learners to look at a situation or scenario through a different lens or viewpoint. It provides learners the opportunity to look at things in a unique and different way. It encourages them to focus their thinking by being placed into a different mindset. It prevents them from producing a reflex response and stimulates the thought process. Based on one of Dr. Edward de Bono’s (2006) thinking systems, ‘The Power of Perception’, this Active eLearning strategy has been adapted for use in managing a live/synchronous online classroom.

Why this idea?

This exercise is based on a set of activities designed to help focus the mind (De Bono, 1993). Direct Attention Thinking Tools (DATT) can be used in any situation to elicit thoughts and ideas from a person or group of people on any subject or topic. There are 10 tools in all (Table 1), and the Other People’s Views (OPV) is just one of these.

Direct Attention Thinking Tools

C & S – Consequence & Sequel

PMI – Plus, Minus, Interesting

RAD – Recognize, Analyze & Divide

CAF – Consider All Factors

OPV – Other People’s Views

APC – Alternatives, Possibilities & Choices

FIP – First Important Priorities

KVI – Key Values Involved

AGO – Aims, Goals & Objectives

DOCA – Decisions, Outcomes, Channels, Actions

Table 1. List of 10 DATT (de Bono, 1993)

Potential benefits:

  • Can be used for any subject/topic
  • Can be implemented on an ad hoc basis if required
  • Can be used online during a live class
  • It can also be used asynchronously
  • Stimulates lateral thinking
  • Allows for collaboration/group work
  • Keeps learners actively engaged

How could others implement this idea?

This approach could be used in every discipline. However, it requires a bit of imagination, and with that there is no reason why this strategy cannot be utilised for any of your classes.

Step 1: Select your topic and identify the stakeholders

After choosing your topic, you need to decide who are the people that matter in this situation, e.g., client, supplier, supervisor, partner, children, boss, the public, maybe a variety of demographics. It depends on your actual topic, but the important thing is to identify all the major stakeholders (Figure 1).


Diagram showing 5 stakeholders
Figure 1. Sample set of stakeholders

Step 2: Realise your scenario

Based on your topic, select the learning outcomes for your lesson. Work backwards from the learning outcomes for this lesson to form your scenario. e.g., video production in digital media. Stakeholders would include the cameraperson, the editor, the sound person, the end user/viewer, the client, the employer etc. The scenario could include either a particular stage of the production process, or the planning or final cut of the piece being explored. Remember, the overall objective is to gain a more rounded understanding of your chosen topic, focusing on your students achieving the learning outcomes as agreed by you at the beginning of the activity. Set the scene for your scenario using images, diagrams, or photos to help participants visualise what part they will play during this exercise. Make sure to give all the relevant information that might be required, so each participant will be working and focusing on the same scenario. Remember, this is a creative/personalised and organic way of approaching a topic, so it can be subjective.

Step 3: Assign each student their role

Depending on the number of stakeholders identified by you for your chosen scenario, and how many learners you have participating in this exercise, you will need to assign each of your learners a role as one of the stakeholders (Figure 2), e.g., if there are 20 students and five stakeholders identified, then you would randomly allocate four students to each stakeholder role (Table 2).


Image of stakeholders and titles: 1. Client 2. Main Supplier 3. Landscaper 4. End User 5. Designer
Figure 2. Stakeholders for landscape project

Stakeholder 1

Stakeholder 2

Stakeholder 3

Stakeholder 4

Stakeholder 5


























Table 2. Sample student stakeholder allocation table

Step 4: Explain what you want your learners to do

Give your students clear instructions for your activity. Describe/set your scenario, as stated in Step 2. It is important that each participant has all the relevant information, so they focus on the same scenario.


Photo of house with attached garage, solar panels on the roof and a well kept patio area. The house has a double glass patio windows showing the living room and kitchen areas
Figure 3. Image of garden to be designed

To aid with this, an image may be helpful. For example, a scenario for designing and constructing a landscaping project was aided with Figure 3. This image was a stock image (royalty free) from within PowerPoint. Alternative image sources where you might find images to support your scenario include Unsplash (unsplash.com) and Pixelbay (pixabay.com).


List the ten most important considerations for this project from your stakeholders’ point of view (Table 3).

Consider All Factors (CAF) 10 most important considerations from your perspective











Table 3. CAF 10 most important considerations from your stakeholder perspective

Step 5: Think, Pair, Share

Provide the learners a set period of time (recommend between five to ten minutes) to come up with their list. The list should be at least ten points minimum. Split the learners into break out rooms based on their stakeholder number, i.e. all learners assigned to stakeholder 1 should be put into the same group, etc. Ask each group to consolidate their list of ten considerations into one collective list, allowing three minutes per group for this activity. After each group has consolidated their list, bring the groups back to the main discussion area and ask each group to call out or type in their top ten considerations for their assigned stakeholder. As each group presents their list, you should type them into a table on your shared screen for everyone to see (Table 4).

Designing and Constructing a Landscape Gardening Project


2.Main Supplier


4.End User












Table 4. Consider All Factors (CAF) 10 most important considerations from your stakeholder’s perspective

Step 6: Tying it all together

As each group presents their collective top ten list of considerations from their assigned stakeholders’ perspective, you, the subject matter expert, should use this opportunity to highlight the important areas covered and presented by each group, while also filling in any gaps or important points they may leave out. This offers a perfect opportunity for your students to co-construct or co-create the entire lesson’s content. This will allow a general, but detailed and comprehensive overview for the chosen topic/scenario to be established. As students play a role in this process, everyone is kept busy and focused on the subject in question. It will be up to you to ensure that learning outcomes for this lesson are achieved as agreed at the planning stage of this exercise.

Transferability to different contexts

This exercise can easily be implemented in a face-to-face situation within a classroom, or in an asynchronous setup on your Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). All you need is your imagination to come up with a situation or scenario. Examples may be generated from curriculum, policy documents, topical news stories. For example, Savelle (2019) highlights a Town Hall (alternative name of OPV) case study, which focuses on biotechnology and issues surrounding its implementation.

In addition, you should source an image to depict your idea. Scenario image sources include

  1. PowerPoint stock images
  2. Unsplash: unsplash.com
  3. Pixelbay pixabay.com

The beauty of the OPV is that it encourages lateral thinking, and when combined with another of the DATT tools, the Consider All Factors (CAF), it encourages learners to focus on producing interesting and relevant points.

An OPV can also be implemented ad hoc. Poised simply as a question to a group of learners, to be answered individually or in small groups. Ultimately, something constructive should be done with the learners’ replies, such as integrate them into a poster or write them up on the board to be discussed in more detail.


De Bono, E. (2006). De Bono’s thinking course. Pearson Education.

De Bono, E. (1993). Serious creativity: Using the power of lateral thinking to create new ideas. Harper Business.

Savelle, R. (2019). Town hall. In S. Ferns (Ed.), Active learning strategies in higher education: The Practical Handbook (1st ed., pp. 120-129). Centre for Higher Education Research, Policy and Practice. https://arrow.tudublin.ie/cherrpbook/1/

Image Attributions

Figure 1. Sample set of stakeholders: Royalty free Microsoft Office stock images

Figure 2. Stakeholders for landscape project: Royalty free Microsoft Office stock images

Figure 3. Image of garden to be designed: Royalty free Microsoft Office stock images

About the Authors

Robert Hickey has been a Lecturer, School of Informatics & Engineering, Technological University Dublin since 2002. Associate Researcher in the Educational Informatics Lab (EILAB) at OntarioTechU, Canada. Corporate member of the Institute of Clerk of Works & Construction Inspectorate and Licentiate of City & Guilds of London Institute (construction). MSc Applied eLearning. Interested in active learning, Ed-tech, entrepreneurship, and keeping the student at the centre of everything.

Shaun Ferns has been a Senior Lecturer, School of Informatics & Engineering, Technological University Dublin since 2002. Associate Researcher in the Educational Informatics Lab (EILAB) at OntarioTechU, Canada. Currently exploring serious games for construction-related training, as well as the opportunities transmedia provides in improving user experience and engagement in cultural archive artifacts.



Arguing to learn: challenging a viewpoint with mystery quotations

Ellis Parkman

Artwork representing good and evil (ice and fire fists)

What is the idea?

In a world less receptive to differing opinions, it is perhaps more important than ever to provide learners with a safe setting in which to learn how to argue effectively and professionally.

Mystery quotations allow learners to actively take charge of their learning during the research and verification stages. Moreover, students can pick aspects of the mystery quotes which resonate with them and shape their learning journey accordingly. This facilitates the opportunity for incidental learning (Kelly, 2012) to take place.

Mystery quotes can be run in a multitude of ways including with focus on research or soft skills. The activity ultimately allows learners to learn by doing (Gibbs, 1988), complementing the cyclical activities Gibbs discussed in his work. Through the use of mystery quotations learners are provided the opportunity to review a quote (analyse), form an argument, stance or viewpoint (action planning, feeling, evaluating, concluding) and finally report their findings or viewpoints back to the rest of the group of learners (describing, concluding).

While there are a number of ways one may wish to perform the mystery quotation activity, a common theme is withholding the origin of the quote, thus providing the ‘mystery’. The purpose of withholding this information is to allow learners to research the subject, ideally without bias, and to seek out more opinions and information than they are presented with via the mystery quotation, providing an opportunity to use and showcase an array of skills. Information on how you can adapt the scenario for research or for soft skills focus is detailed below.

Mystery quotations also provide the opportunity for learners to interact with each other on a personal level; amplifying their soft skills. This can be explicitly facilitated in asking learners to provide feedback on the experience after the activity has been completed. Question prompts from the teacher can assist, such as: ‘How difficult was it to professionally argue your point?’, ‘What did you enjoy / dislike during this process?’, or ‘What skills were you demonstrating as part of this process?’.

It is important to make sure quotes are direct and accurate, in-depth knowledge of the subject is not essential for learners, as this could be used as an activity to focus learners on new content as a flipped learning approach (Miedany, 2018).

Why this idea?

Mystery quotations can easily be adapted for any topic area and can generate and move conversations somewhat authentically, in line with the interests of the learners engaging with the topic.

Not only does this provide the opportunity for learners to grapple with their subject matter in a more practical manner, it facilitates the enhancement of soft skills. Learners have the freedom to present information in a manner which suits them, rather than a manner prescribed to them.

Additionally, learners are provided the opportunity to discuss / argue in a safe environment, which can help their confidence, public speaking, and research skills – skills that may not be directly related to their subject matter but are important and transferable skills for the workplace, further education settings or even pastoral / personal matters.

How could others implement this idea?

Mystery quotes for research

In this method, a member of staff, or a designated individual from the class selects several quotes from a topic. Students are then encouraged to research the topic further, and to find supporting or contrasting information to present back to the class and are made aware that other students or groups will be able to question them on their research.

This method allows students to practice their research skills, providing an opportunity for students to weigh up the reliability of sources of information, prepare balanced (or unbalanced) arguments and justify their approaches. When performing this as a research-based task the importance is not so much on the stance the students take, but the depth of information they can access, the way they present that back to their peers and the research approaches they take to access and verify information.

Mystery quotes for soft skills

When providing this activity to focus and practice soft skills, put students into groups and provide two mystery quotes. Have them provide arguments supporting each quote and justify these arguments / discuss these with the rest of the group and eventually back to the class.

In this scenario focus should also be placed on teaching students how to critique or question in a professional manner (you may wish to discuss topics such as leading questioning within this).

Examples / ideas for quotes

Topics covered can range greatly, but consider quotes which are thought provoking, emotive or controversial, and ideally well researched.

Examples of mystery quotes could include:


Example Quote

Global Warming

‘Human activity isn’t the only factor that affects the Earth’s climate’ (one group argue for, one against)

History / Politics / Economics: Communism

‘Communism may help lessen the gap between poor and the rich’ (one group focus on the positives of communism, one group on the negatives)

Transferability to different contexts

This activity can be adapted for learners of different ages, or even for business purposes. The subject matter selected can be relevant to different courses, specialties, or business sectors. In order to engage different audiences, the primary focus will be on the content (the quotes) selected. You will also need to supply instructions tailored to the correct standard for learners of different ages or abilities, to ensure they fully understand the task.

The skills learned as part of this activity are applicable to real life decision making scenarios, allows learners how to argue effectively, diplomatically and safely, and allows learners to practice their communication skills.


Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit.

Kelly S. W. (2012). Incidental learning. In: Seel N.M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 1517-1518). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_366

Miedany, Y. E. (2018). Flipped learning. In: Rheumatology Teaching: The Art and Science of Medical Education (pp. 285-303). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-98213-7_15

Image attribution

Good versus evil artwork by Matryx on Pixabay

About the Author

Ellis Parkman is a Consultant Learning Technologist, and co-founder of Pea Consultancy, with her partner Matt and trusty rescue dog Ernie. Ellis has worked with private enterprises and the education sector, with particular focus on staff training and upskilling, and creation of engaging online content.


Busting myths and misconceptions in learning using 'True or False?'

Zeenar Salim

Group of people having a meeting with soft drinks, notebooks and a laptop

What is the idea?

‘True or False’ is an active learning activity whereby learners are actively engaged in supporting or refuting the statements and substantiating their responses with evidence. During this activity, learners restructure their ideas and develop evidence-based conceptions. Having sound knowledge, developed from argumentation and presentation of evidence, helps learners gain expertise in a subject area.

Why this idea?

Learners are not blank slates. They bring their ideas and conceptions to the instruction. Their conceptions stem from their prior lived experiences or instruction that they had undertaken in the past (Smith et al., 1994). Learners’ conceptions play a useful role in shaping the learning and acquisition of expertise.

From a constructivist perspective, instruction either supports or modifies learners’ existing conceptions. Continuous restructuring of the existing conceptions is a central condition for learning. The restructuring of learners’ conceptions mirrors the scientific process, whereby conjectures are either supported or refuted, as further evidence is searched for, produced, or becomes available (Foroushani, 2019; Smith et. al, 1994; Trotskovsky et al., 2013).

How could others implement this idea?

‘True or False?’ can be conducted asynchronously, by posting the statement and guidance on learning management systems. In this case, truth means a statement that is supported by the evidence in the literature, and false means the statement that is not supported by the evidence provided in the text. The purpose of the activity is to discuss content, reveal and resolve mis- and alternative- conceptions. The following section presents sample instructions for the asynchronous discussion.

Individually, students will:

  • Write a statement (true or false) about the topic (less than 100 words). For example, eating excessive sugar can cause cancer.
  • Select three statements written by peers or instructors. Identify whether the statement is true or false and convince others by providing evidence (100 – 150 words).
  • Reply to your original post and argue for or against your peer’s identification of true or false. Convince your peer by providing evidence (100 – 150 words).

Learners interact with each other to identify and resolve the commonly or uniquely held misconceptions around the topic. They choose the statement that they want to comment on. Say, there are 10 learners in the asynchronous discussion, there would be 10 statements on a topic. Each student will respond to three statements. Instructor(s) or a volunteer student summarises the learning by providing evidence-based explanations and feedback where they find unresolved misconceptions and/or alternate explanations. Where statements cannot be classified as true or false, but somewhere in between, the instructor provides clarification and/or summary to collate the responses. Also, instructors must posit the explanations supported by evidence when discussion leads to any conflicting ideas and/or evidence.

Transferability to different contexts

The activity can be used in a variety of subject areas and can be implemented through asynchronous medium. Sample statements may include:

  • Cancer is a contagious disease (Biology)
  • More homework is equivalent to more learning (Education)
  • Solopreneurs are their own bosses and are not answerable to anyone (Business studies)
  • Humanist is the same as an atheist (Religious studies)
  • Social workers are volunteers generally and are not paid well (Social work)
  • Philosophy has no practical value (Philosophy)
  • When an artist finds a gallery or studio, they can spend all their time in producing art (Arts)
  • Earth is round (Physics)
  • Temperature of a system always increases when heat transfers to the system, regardless of the flow of work (Engineering)
  • Research is a linear process of identifying hypothesis, collecting evidence, and sharing results (Research studies)
  • A variable can hold several values at the same time (Maths or Programming)

By providing such statements, faculty and learners can co-create the content, engage in constructing and reconstructing their arguments, and support their arguments with practical experience or scientific evidence. The activity provides an opportunity to develop and practice academic referencing as well.

The activity can be conducted online (synchronous or asynchronous) mode or in a face-to-face classroom setting. Particularly in an asynchronous environment, learners may have more time and can refer to learning resources (articles, readings, books, people, etc.) to think through the argument, find evidence and construct arguments, in comparison to online synchronous or face-to-face classroom.  Best results are achieved when groups are limited to 7-10 people. It can be carried out through Google documents, Google Slides, Google Jamboard, Padlet wall, Flip-grid, Voice-thread, or written threaded discussions in any Learning Management System. Faculty and learners can choose the tool based on their comfort and expertise in using a learning tool.

Links to tools and resources

The instructor may select the tools that suit the purpose of instruction. In case of confidential and/or private discussions, it is recommended to use the university’s learning management system.


Foroushani, S. (2019). Misconceptions in engineering thermodynamics: A review. International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education, 47(3), 195-209. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306419018754396

Smith, J. P., diSessa, A. A., & Roschelle, J. (1994). Misconceptions reconceived: A constructivist analysis of knowledge in transition. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(2), 115-163. https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1207/s15327809jls0302_1

Trotskovsky, E., Sabag, N., Waks, S., & Hazzan, O. (2013). Students’ misunderstandings and misconceptions in engineering thinking. International Journal of Engineering Education, 29(1), 107-118.

Image Attribution

Group of people having a meeting by Startup Stock Photos is used under Pexels licence

About the Author

Zeenar Salim is a Fulbright Ph.D. scholar at Syracuse University, New York. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA – UK). Her work focuses on designing and implementing faculty development programs on designing engaging and accessible courses. She has worked as a faculty developer in multiple continents.


3c Reflection


Matching reflections

Dr Jessica Clare Hancock

Jigsaw pieces laid out on a black wooden table

What is the idea?

Many students struggle with reflection, and paying attention to each of its components (James et al., 2014). This activity uses text matching to explore a reflective model – Hancock’s (2021) DUCKS model (Describe, Understand, Change, Keep, Share). Students are given the headings for each of the components of the DUCKS model, along with an example reflection which has been divided into five parts but in a jumbled order.

Students work in groups to match each of the five excerpts of the reflection with the correct part of the DUCKS model. In doing so, they gain understanding of the model; the activity enables them to identify, through use of the drag and drop examples, what is involved in each element of reflection, so they can then use these stages in their own reflections. This activity could be done with headings and excerpts printed onto card, or online using Google Drawings (or an alternative such as Miro) and drag and drop text boxes.

Why this idea?

Reflection has been recognised as a key element of all kinds of learning for many years (Kolb, 1984) and is directly mentioned in Universal Design for Learning as a key way of ensuring that Higher Education is inclusive of a diverse range of students (CAST, 2018). However, many students struggle with reflection (Lucas & Tan, 2013), particularly in terms of applying a reflective model to a particular situation. The matching activity enables exploration of the different stages of reflection.

I initially used examples which I thought would be fairly obvious in terms of identifying the stages of reflection, but have been surprised at the richness of the discussion and debates around the ‘correct’ stage for the excerpts. This demonstrates that the stages of reflection often overlap and are not straightforward, so valuable peer learning takes place during this activity undertaken as a group. The application of a reflective model in a particular situation makes the different aspects of reflection more concrete, and the different interpretations of which stage of reflection might connect to the given excerpt enables a deep appreciation of the aspects of the different stages of the DUCKS model.

The DUCKS model (Hancock, 2021) is particularly effective for this as it has distinct stages, which cover all aspects of the reflective process. This includes ones such as describing the event, understanding the event, and thinking about what might be changed in the future, which are common across many models (Gibb, 1988; Manouchehri, 2001). It also adds elements that are more unique – the ‘keep’ stage which reinforces the idea that reflection is not all about the negative aspects of an event, or of doing something entirely different next time, but about what has gone well and should be retained, and also the ‘share’ stage which emphasises the usefulness of reflections which are communicated to others for a collective benefit.

How could others implement this idea?

A simple application for a face-to-face session could involve giving each group of students a large sheet of paper with headings for each stage of the DUCKS model (Describe, Understand, Change, Keep, Share). Each group would then be given an example reflection, which has been divided into the relevant sections and printed out onto separate bits of card. The sections of the example would not be given in a specific order, so the group will need to work out which card matches with each of the headings. Depending on the complexity of the example, or the level of understanding of the students, I would give around 15 minutes to complete the matching. Each group could be given the same reflection, or they could be given different ones. If varied ones are used, these could be rotated around the groups.

An online version of this activity could use Google Drawings. The headings would be put at the top, and then the excerpts would be written within different text boxes. I find it is useful to use a different background colour for each text box to help distinguish them (although accessibility obviously has to be considered with the colour choice) and also to number them. Students can work in groups to drag and drop the text boxes to move them to the correct heading. To prevent the confusion of everyone in the group trying to move things at the same time, it works best to nominate one group member to do the moving, and the rest to direct where the text can go. This could be done using any alternative that allows the easy drag and drop movement of text boxes, such as a Miro board.

The matching or drag and drop element of this activity could also be used with anything where students are matching an example to a specific model, or perhaps matching definitions to key terms.

Useful tools

Example of a reflection using the DUCKS model

Describe: None of my first year students are turning on their mics or cameras so I’m teaching to a series of initials and no one responds to my questions. I feel like I’m teaching into the void and it’s quite isolating. I worry that no one is learning anything.

Understand: Maybe my students can’t be bothered to take part. Or perhaps they don’t know each other well enough yet to speak out loud and are worried about showing their home to everyone.

Change: I’ll suggest that students can use different backgrounds to protect their privacy to some extent. I’ll make use of the chat functions so students who don’t want to use cameras or microphones can still participate.

Keep: I think the structure of my sessions works well, so I’m going to keep a focus on active learning and participation.

Share: I’m going to speak to the rest of the programme team about doing more community building so that students become more comfortable and familiar with each other.

This reflection used as a drag and drop Google drawing: https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/11FKKhNXiKrsVQVQeZvxjS16QzXVX0axU5j1tODZWh24/edit


Examples in Google Drawings:


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning guidelines. http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Gibb, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit.

Hancock, J. C. (2021, June 17) Reflection: Getting your DUCKS in a row. Teach Like a PhD Researcher. https://blogs.city.ac.uk/phdteach/2021/06/17/reflection-getting-your-ducks-in-a-row/

James, A., Brookfield, S., & Cook, M. (2014). Engaging imagination : helping students become creative and reflective thinkers (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Lucas, U., & Tan, P. L. (2013). Developing a capacity to engage in critical reflection: students’ ‘ways of knowing’ within an undergraduate business and accounting programme. Studies in Higher Education, 38(1), 104–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.569706

Manouchehri, A. (2001). Collegial interaction and reflective practice. Action in Teacher Education, (22)4, 86-97. https://doi.org/10.1080/01626620.2001.10463032

Image Attributions

Jigsaw pieces photo by Gabriel Crismariu on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr Jessica Hancock is Head of Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester, where she is programme lead for the MA in Learning and Teaching in HE, and CASTLE (Celebration and Recognition Scheme for Teaching and Learning Expertise – supporting HEA fellowship applications). She has published on academic writing, and compassionate and identity-focused approaches to developing teaching in HE.


Using triadic reflective dialogue to support active learning

Dr Conor Mellon

What is the idea?

This chapter outlines a process where learners can engage in a reflective dialogue to support active learning. Fink’s (2003) holistic model of active learning is underpinned by three specific components: 1) experience, 2) reflective dialogue, and 3) information and ideas. Of these components perhaps reflective dialogue can often be the most challenging. The development of collaborative reflective talk can support active learning, as learners unpack learning experiences in a safe but critical way (Dewing, 2010).

Why this idea?

Dialogic reflection – i.e., where discussion forms part of the reflective process – allows the learner to articulate their views, and then disrupt and reconceptualise their thinking (Brown & Sawyer, 2016). Through this type of dialogue, the learner demonstrates agency and ownership over their learning journey (Wen et al., 2015). It can be used at different points during the learning process in a topic, module, or programme. The most significant difficulty with this process involves the vulnerability that accompanies an open description of our own actions, thoughts, and feelings. This however is part of the healthy scepticism that accompanies any reflective process, and signifies that the learner is continuing to learn, to make mistakes, to experience success, and to grow (Walker et al., 2013). Trust in our peers is, however, crucial. This sense of trust relates not only to a mutual understanding around care, safety, and support, as we pull apart our ideas and experiences, but also trust in that we can each expect an element of challenge in the dialogue (Timperley, 2015).

How can others implement this idea?

The sequence below makes explicit use of Rushton’s (2017) triadic model for effective questioning. His work focused on a triadic reflective process with experienced educators, where they explored their comfortability with different forms of reflective questioning. Here however this model is adapted to focus exclusively on reflection and uses a modified version of Fink’s (2003) reflective questions on the learning process. While of course it is possible to engage in a reflective dialogue with a single individual or larger groups, the limiting to three participants here has the benefit of maintaining a safe but productive space for authentic reflection:

  1. Exploration and Experimentation

As a first step, educators should explore the concepts of reflection and dialogue with learners. They should discuss the strengths and weaknesses of reflection, the available tools, and what dialogue offers. They should also introduce the main skills involved in the process, including ‘curiosity and inquiry, quietude and active listening, suspending assumptions and expressing viewpoints’ (Boluk et al., 2019, p. 26). Learners might practice some of these specific skills e.g., participate in active listening, or use inquiring questioning to support narratives. The educator and learners can also agree on a form of charter, to support their engagement in reflective dialogue. For example, they might make a commitment to creating a safe reflective space, to active listening, to respecting multiple perspectives, or to accepting challenge. This charter can be revisited when needed.

2. Agreement and Refinement

Following this preparatory phase, the learners engage in an initial reflective dialogue. They are given prior notice that they will engage in a dialogue about their learning journey in the topic, subject, module, etc. They should be given the questions that will support their discussion in advance:

      • What am I learning? How would I describe my learning journey so far? How have I felt during this time?
      • Of what value is this learning? What is it doing for me now? What will it do for me in the future?
      • How did I learn best during this time? What was most comfortable? What was difficult?
      • What else do I need to learn? What future actions can I take?

In keeping with object-based learning processes (Tam, 2015), and in order to stimulate dialogue, they may bring along an artefact that says something ‘key’ about their journey e.g., a sample of work, an image, a resource, an object, etc.

Each participant is given the same length of time e.g., 10 minutes, to engage in a discussion on their experience. Another participant acts as the facilitator, where they pose the above questions, but they can also go further here, clarifying points, asking how they felt, or took particular actions. Eliciting the emotional impact of the learning experience is important as authentic reflection is anchored to feelings (Moon, 2013). The facilitator should also support the speaker through a resolution or toward future actions. The other participant in the discussion should keep a detailed record, noting down key responses and ideas. Over the course of the dialogue, the three learners each take up the role of narrator, facilitator, notetaker. By the end of the discussion there is a detailed record of the three interactions that they can all look back over and aid their overall reflection on the process. This record can also support any individual reflective writing, and it can contribute to a learning/reflective portfolio. It can even act as a stimulus for the next triadic reflective dialogue, where the group can revisit key points and check in on the planned actions.

At the close of this first dialogue the educator should facilitate a whole-group discussion around the experience and the learners’ thoughts on areas of the process for further refinement or consolidation.

3. Implementation and Facilitation

Based on this first experience, it is a good idea to revisit the preliminary charter and make agreed adjustments. Learners and educators can then proceed with implementing triadic reflective dialogues at mutually agreed points in the learning process. As above, it is always important to give the learners adequate notice that a reflective dialogue is due to take place.

4. Reflection

The educator should continue to offer opportunities to revisit the overall process with the group intermittently, where they can reflect and adjust protocols.

Transferability to different contexts

The above sequence is flexible and applicable to a range of settings. It is especially useful in senior secondary, and tertiary contexts, and has already been successfully applied in professional learning contexts (Rushton, 2017). Of course, reflection can prove challenging in disciplines where introspection and critical dialogue are not readily encouraged. For such disciplines, it is perhaps even more of an imperative to proceed incrementally when introducing reflective processes, and to avail of the type of structured sequence outlined in this article. The key is to ensure comfortability, and to avoid any tendency to engage in surface-level storytelling, or merely ‘propping’ up descriptive narratives with uncritical questioning (Timperley, 2015).

Links to tools and resources


Boluk, K. A., Cavaliere, C. T., & Higgins-Desbiolles, F. (Eds.). (2021). Activating critical thinking to advance the sustainable development goals in tourism systems. Routledge.

Brown, H., & Sawyer, R. D. (2016). Dialogic reflection: An exploration of its embodied, imaginative, and reflexive dynamic. In H. Brown, R. D. Sawyer, & J. Norris (Eds.) Forms of Practitioner Reflexivity (pp. 1-12). Palgrave Macmillan.

Dewing, J. (2010). Moments of movement: active learning and practice development. Nurse Education in Practice, 10(1), 22-26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nepr.2009.02.010

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. https://www.bu.edu/sph/files/2014/03/www.deefinkandassociates.com_GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf

Moon, J. A. (2013). Reflection in learning and professional development: Theory and practice. Routledge Falmer.

Rushton, K. (2017). Instructional leadership: The art of asking questions to promote teaching effectiveness. In P. Preciado Babb, L. Yeworiew, & S. Sabbaghan (Eds.). Selected Proceedings of the IDEAS Conference: Leading Educational Change (pp. 131-139). Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary.

Tam, C. (2015). Three cases of using object-based learning with university students: A comparison of their rationales, impact, and effectiveness. In H. Chatterjee and L. Hannon (Eds.) Engaging the senses: Object-based learning in higher education (pp. 117-132). Routledge.

Timperley, H. (2015). Professional conversations and improvement-focused feedback. A review of the research literature and the impact on practice and student outcomes. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/professional-conversations-literature-review-oct-2015.pdf?sfvrsn=fc2ec3c_0

Walker, R., Cooke, M., Henderson, A., & Creedy, D. K. (2013). Using a critical reflection process to create an effective learning community in the workplace. Nurse Education Today, 33(5), 504-511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2012.03.001

Wen, C. C., Lin, M. J., Lin, C. W., & Chu, S. Y. (2015). Exploratory study of the characteristics of feedback in the reflective dialogue group given to medical students in a clinical clerkship. Medical Education Online, 20(1), 259-265. https://doi.org/10.3402/meo.v20.25965

About the Author

Dr Conor Mellon is a former primary teacher and has also taught on undergraduate and postgraduate initial teacher and early childhood education programmes. He has supported teachers in developing practices for critical inquiry and reflection. He now works with student teachers preparing for careers in further education and other adult learning contexts.


Do you dare to pause? Hearts and minds together: a contemplative approach to fostering effective inclusive academic practice

Sarah Rhodes

What is the idea?

This approach consists of a series of structured ‘pauses’ within an Inclusive Curriculum Design module on a PG Academic Practice course for students (staff new to teaching in higher education). The structured pauses in the pre, during and post module phases are designed for students to contemplate the anticipated, current and future impact of their learning journey towards more equitable and inclusive practises within their own teaching, learning and assessment approaches. The aim of this approach in our very fast paced ever changing landscape of Higher Education is to provide opportunities for staff to engage both their hearts and minds when designing inclusive curriculums for the future.

Why this idea?

The value and importance of fostering inclusive practice in education, specifically higher education, is at the heart of Initial Teacher Education provision (Coffield et al., 2008). However, the design of the curriculum often isolates inclusive learning and teaching as discrete sessions or modules (Forlin, 2010; Symeonidou, 2017) rather than as an integral thread and holistic approach throughout the course. Into baking? Think of inclusion like the ‘sticky sugary syrup’ continually found throughout a lemon drizzle cake! Therefore, a key area is to reframe inclusion in Initial Teacher Education learning and teaching within a social justice framework to engage both hearts (attitudes and behaviours) and minds (knowledge and skills).

John Dewey consistently criticised the segmentation of seemingly opposing themes into dualistic relationships. Dewey particularly loathed the mind/body dualism and advocated for treating the mind-body as an ‘integral whole’ (Boydston, 2008, p. 27). Based on this philosophy, Dewey proposed that experience (body) is key to learning (mind). Contemplative practises offer faculty, students, and staff tools for working productively with the mind and emotions. These tools can become an important aid to sustained reflection and capacity building. Students and staff are encouraged to engage in contemplative practice then step back and appraise for meaning and significance. In recent years, such practises have lost their explicit place in education in favour of reasoning and evidence especially during the recent pandemic (Jayman, 2020) that has focused mainly on problem solving and reactive approaches.

Rendon (2009) has researched more recently this debate that heart and spirit are becoming more absent from teaching. She makes a persuasive case for ending the segregation of heart and spirit from traditional teaching to sensing and thinking pedagogy: educating for wholeness, social justice, and liberation. Based on her research and experiences she argues that inner and outer, learning are connected, and that contemplative practises are imperative to ensure learners are engaged and associate deeper levels of meaning with course content. Inner learning encompasses emotion and reflection, while outer learning refers to intellect, reasoning, and academic concepts; recognising the need to integrate these two learning approaches, rather than have them operate singularly.

In previous iterations of the Inclusive Curriculum Design module, student feedback has focused on wanting to ‘know’ how to respond to diverse student needs. Practically, this is possible with real life case studies and scenarios yet the skills, attitudes and attributes to respond to a range of needs (often complex) are far more challenging and less well developed in the student teachers enrolled on these courses. The opportunities for inner learning experiences (reflective practice, reflexivity in our curriculum) specifically related to inclusion, are needed more than ever in our continuously changing and diverse student cohorts (Ashwin et al., 2015; Sharma, 2010).

How could others implement this idea?

Step 1

The pre module pause requires students to visualise their own learning journey as a film narrative and position themselves as the viewer. Their contemplation forms part of a pre module task in the form of an autobiography (in a format of their choice; video, poster, artefact or written piece) whereby they critically reflect upon the how/why/what/where and when of this journey. Students are also invited to share aspects of their autobiography on a virtual discussion forum. This enables students to reflect and offer compassionate and supportive comments on others’ perspectives, lived experiences and learning journeys.

Step 2

Secondly, during the module students engage in regular fortnightly ‘pause’ activities that promote contemplation throughout the five mandatory scheduled sessions. These include:

1. Consideration of how their own background, education and upbringing has influenced them as a learner and educator;

2. Mindfulness practices to promote mindful awareness of emotions in relation to inclusivity;

3. Small group tutorial ‘safe and brave’ spaces where they are encouraged to reflect on their current academic practice within a specific theme such as online learning, student transitions, large group teaching with peers and a SFHEA accredited tutor.

Step 3

Thirdly, students complete a case study summative assessment asking them to contemplate their own academic practice in relation to inclusivity. The assessment invites students to critically reflect on their own academic practice (grounding these with underpinning theory and concepts) and apply inclusive curriculum design to their own setting within a chosen thematic area.

Step 4

Finally, students that successfully complete the Inclusive Curriculum Design module are invited to record a brief 5-minute audio or video chat with the Module Leader about their inclusive practises since undertaking the module (approximately 6 months after completion). The recorded conversation is an opportunity for graduating students to reflect and contemplate how the design of their sessions/courses/activities are more inclusive because of the module learning. Graduates consent to share these recorded conversations alongside their summative case study with the new student cohort for the following academic year. This activity is really powerful and promotes engagement and deeper levels of meaning with the flipped course content for the new students.

Transferability to different contexts

Directly, this approach would be relevant to all teacher educator courses within Higher Education settings. Alongside this, a significant number of courses within the Education, Health and Social Sciences sectors would easily benefit from consideration of this approach within their curriculum offering. This approach would certainly have transferability to forward thinking institutions that place value on the social, emotional and spiritual development of graduates. Furthermore, there is also potential for cognitive transformation promoting attention, working memory, long-term memory, meaning to interconnections on the path to wisdom of contemplative practises (Bush, 2013) so the approach could be an attractive option to adapt for institutions with diverse student populations, specifically those having neurodiversity needs.

Links to tools and resources


One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=1290#oembed-1


Ashwin, P., Boud, D., Coate, K., Hallett, F., Keane, E., Krause, K-L., Leibowitz, B., MacLaren, I., McArthur, J., McCune, V., & Tooher, M. (2015). Reflective teaching in higher education. Bloomsbury Academic.

Boydston, J. A. (Ed.). (2008). The later works of John Dewey, Volume 3, 1925-1953: 1927-1928 essays, reviews, miscellany, and ‘impressions of Soviet Russia’. Southern Illinois Press.

Bush, M. (2013). Mindfulness in higher education. In J. M. G. Williams & J. Kabat-Zinn (Eds.). Mindfulness: Diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins and applications (pp. 183-197). Mental Health, Wellbeing and Education Special Interest Group. Routledge.

Coffield, F., Edward, S., Finlay, I., Spours, K., Steer, R., & Hodgson, A. (2008). Improving learning, skills and inclusion: the impact of policy on post-compulsory education. Improving learning TLRP series. Routledge.

Forlin, C. (2010). Reframing teacher education for inclusion. In C. Forlin (Ed.), Teacher education for inclusion: changing paradigms and innovative approaches (1st ed., pp. 3-12). Routledge.

Jayman, M. (2020, 3 July). Teaching, Learning and Wellbeing during Covid: Reflections from HE Professionals (BERA impact of Covid series). BERA Mental Health, Wellbeing and Education Special Interest Group. https://www.bera.ac.uk/media/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-mental-health-wellbeing-and-education

Rendón, L. I. (2009). Sentipensante (sensing/thinking) pedagogy: Educating for wholeness, social justice and liberation. Stylus Pub.

Sharma, U. (2010). Using reflective practices for the preparation of pre-service teachers for inclusive classrooms. In C. Forlin (Ed.), Teacher education for inclusion: changing paradigms and innovative approaches (1st ed., pp. 102-111).

Symeonidou, S. (2017). Initial teacher education for inclusion: a review of the literature, Disability & Society, 32(3), 401-422. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2017.1298992

About the Author

Sarah Rhodes teaches on a range of teacher educator courses: PGCE PCE and PG Cert Academic Practice. Key areas include inclusive curriculum design, SEND and aspects of designing online learning. Her scholarly activities focus on AT engagement and inclusive practices. Sarah is currently studying for a PG coaching and mentoring qualification.


3d Work, Employability and Partnership


Using active learning techniques to facilitate employability and enterprise skills acquisition

Professor Karen Heard-Lauréote and Dr Mark Field

What is the idea?

This active learning strategy utilises the opportunities and challenges of embedding employability and enterprise skills within the curriculum in UK higher education undergraduate provision. By delivering skills acquisition through a standalone module, this strategy addresses the question as to how academics can ‘teach’ employability and enterprise.

To promote the acquisition of transferable employability and enterprise skills, we developed and introduced a second-year module ‘Politics and Policy in Action’ to the undergraduate Politics and International Relations curriculum. This thirteen-week module is designed as a continuously assessed simulation exercise which allows students to develop and then demonstrate key employability skills such as communication, problem-solving and decision-making. The learning and teaching strategy shifts away from the didactic approach towards more student-centred and student-directed learning (Bovill, 2020).

Throughout the module, students work in small, self-managed groups of four or five. They are required to apply discipline, knowledge, principles and concepts applicable to civil society and social mobilisation, to engage in the analysis of policy and the development of an ensuing campaign or lobbying strategy to effectively influence policy. The taught element of the module is delivered by both academic staff and practitioners involved in local campaigns. The latter offer practical guidance on campaigning and provide feedback on both the groups’ campaign proposals and on their final campaign launch.

In the delivery of the practical assessment outlined at module start, students are required to use creative thinking and problem-solving skills, strategic planning skills, teamwork and delegation skills and to be able to deliver a brief. These are all key, advanced employability skills that will stand students in good stead for their future careers by providing them with practical work-based examples to draw on in applications, assessment centres and interviews.

The module constitutes a step-change in the provision of employability within the Politics and International Relations curriculum. Rather than seeking to teach the skills associated with employability, students naturally acquire these skills through the selection, management and delivery of their own campaign. In its design, the module utilises assessment as a continuous and formatively driven exercise which includes team activities (summatively assessed through the group campaign proposal and the final group campaign launch) and a comprehensive individual activity (assessed through a detailed self-reflective journal with several formative submission points along the way).

Formal module feedback from the students has been positive, particularly in terms of the creation of their campaign. Importantly, however, the comments in the students’ individual reflective journals frequently identified areas of generic skills that need further development. Within the wider department, the module is viewed as a model of good practice for the teaching of employability related content. At the institutional level, the module positively contributes to the metrics related to Graduate Outcomes data against which all higher education institutions are benchmarked against sector.

Why this idea?

Whilst degree-level study has always had a role in facilitating the development of students’ professional skills, this facet of an HE course is now a policy priority for the UK Government: one that poses a significant challenge for the delivery of non-vocational academic programmes across the HE sector.

The principle underpinning this chapter and the active learning strategy we present, is that self-managed activities coupled with peer-to-peer learning help to develop students’ generic skills such as judgement, prioritisation, goal setting and confidence. By then inviting students to consider and discuss the obstacles, barriers, and successful strategies related to communication, problem solving, and critical thinking, their capacity for reflective learning is enhanced.

How could others implement this idea?

  • Divide students into groups of four/five. If a group is self-selecting, stress to students the importance of including a range of skills within the group.
  • Ensure each student has a defined role within the group (e.g., leader; social media expert; networker; researcher).
  • Provide exemplar campaigns. If possible, invite members of local campaigns to support students’ learning and to provide practitioner guidance. Encourage these practitioners to help assess group campaign launches.
  • Allow students space and time to brainstorm ideas for appropriate and deliverable local campaigns.
  • Assessment one (which may be formative or low proportion summative): a group written campaign proposal (such as a shared document) to include compulsory project management elements such as stakeholder analysis; PESTEL etc.
  • Require students to identify strengths and weaknesses within their campaign proposal and within their group (e.g., through SWOT analysis).
  • Support students as they develop their campaigns but continually stress the need for self-managed delivery and dealing with adversity (e.g., in addressing the ‘free-rider’ issue).
  • Assessment two (summative). A group campaign launch. This could be, for example, a campaign film and/or a poster supported by a social media campaign. Launch should be in person and, if possible, audience and assessors should include campaign practitioners.
  • Assessment three (summative). An individual reflective journal that identifies strengths and weaknesses of own and others’ contributions to the campaign and an assessment of skills acquired and those that need further practice.

Transferability to different contexts

Although producing a campaign lends itself neatly to a politics-related programme, for this case study this is simply a subject-appropriate vehicle for utilising and developing the key skills valued by employers. In practice, skills acquisition is a function of the autonomy and self-managed nature of the group activity, rather than the outcome of the group work. As such, this case study could be easily adapted for other disciplines.

For example, criminology students could work in small groups to identify and deliver a solution to an aspect of low-level community crime. Mechanical engineering students could participate in an industry sponsored group design sprint to resolve an identified mechanical problem and devise a workable and fully costed solution as part of a hackathon event. Fine Art students could organise and curate an exhibition of their collected works as part of a cooperative – organising an exhibition of their work as a cooperative-style endeavour where commissions, space allocations and themes must be negotiated. Accountancy & Finance students could work together as a team of auditors, scrutinising the books of a real SME to ensure the accuracy of accounts and check for regulatory compliance. History students could work together in small groups to identify significant heritage features in a local area and use this as a basis to devise and develop an interactive mobile app-based map to orientate both visitors and interested local residents.


Bovill, C. (2020). Co-creation in learning and teaching: The case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education, 79, 1023-1037. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00453-w

About the Authors

Professor Karen Heard-Lauréote is Professor and Head of Learning and Teaching at Solent University, responsible for leading the implementation of Solent’s agendas for improving learning, teaching and assessment practices, course enhancement, academic development and curriculum development. Her research interests include active learning pedagogies and matrix leadership in cross-portfolio working.

Dr Mark Field is Principal Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Portsmouth.  Mark’s research interests are around transparency, accountability and governance, particularly at the EU institutions.  In addition, Mark is interested in active learning pedagogies in HE and embedding these in the curriculum. 


Everyone's a winner: developing mutually beneficial partnerships 

Wendy Johnston

Photo of brown jigsaw pieces

What is the idea?

The curriculum and the experiences of the students within it can be brought to life through developing collaborative partnerships and embedding live industry briefs within the curriculum. Successful collaboration between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), external partners and students provide authentic learning experiences, which develop students’ capabilities and entrepreneurial skills, helping to prepare them for their transition out of university and into graduate employment. Collaboration with industry and engagement in real-world problem-solving projects, such as live product development briefs, stimulates active learning and encourages students to be critical, creative entrepreneurs producing work that is not just for assessment purposes but can also be used externally to the university thus helping to develop graduate skills.

Why this idea?

I wanted to bring the curriculum to life by embedding live collaborative briefs into the curriculum, creating authentic, active learning experiences and to ensure that live projects gained a prominence in students’ lives, which was more than simply completing assignments and assessments. Working collaboratively can positively influence student learning, helping them to understand that their work is valued which in turn makes them feel valued.

Chickering and Gamson (1987) propose that students do not learn much just sitting in class listening to teachers, they must be actively engaged in learning, whilst Thomas and Busby (2003) suggest that engaging in real-world problem solving helps develop creativity, critical thinking and the development of graduate skills. However, to genuinely engage students in the creative process, the classroom environment has limitations.

Tailoring in real-life opportunities and highlighting real-world applications of knowledge and skills, helps harness student motivation and ensures students apply what they learn to real-world contexts enabling them to work within authentic settings. Collaborations and live briefs engage students, and enrich and enhance the student experience, academically and materially. Furthermore, they strengthen the links between HEI providers and industry, bridging the theory–practice gap, helping facilitate the delivery of a more effective curriculum. Live briefs provide opportunities for students to learn from and with an external partner whilst experiencing working to an industry-led brief with realistic constraints. They help facilitate deep learning, enrich teaching and learning, inspire students to produce outstanding work and can increase employability. Working collaboratively with major food and equipment manufacturers students have developed and written recipes for company websites, developed innovative desserts for a high-end dessert manufacturer, developed and presented recipes for trade/food shows and developed chocolates which were included in tasting boxes for a British chocolate brand. A student states:

”Working with an external company on a live brief allows us to put what we have learned into practice. It gives me a sense of pride seeing my work used outside of university.”

When developing live briefs, it is essential to ensure that they are not just contrived scenarios, but that they are carefully planned, collaborative, dynamic, industry-based live projects which have defined outcomes agreed between the university and the collaborative partner and clearly linked to assessment criteria. It is important to explore how collaborations can benefit all parties. With this in mind I aspired to develop authentic learning environments which linked students with external partners, and which crucially were beneficial to the students and external partners: a win-win situation. ‘Building partnerships with industry is mutually beneficial to institutions and working professionals, it not only serves students well, but it helps to keep the curriculum relevant and current whilst for industry it is a chance to scout for new talent’ (Hitchings, 2016, p. 625). Working with a collaborative partner encourages personal and professional development, equips students with world-of-work and entrepreneurial skills and helps equip them for graduate employment.

So in response to the question ‘why?’ I believe that ‘combining the individual perspectives, resources and skills of the partners and the group creates something new and valuable together – a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts’ (Lasker et al, 2001, p. 184).

How could others implement this idea?

‘Trust and mutual interest are an important enabler to successful collaboration’ (Nielsen & Cappelen, 2014, p. 338).

  • If you are new to collaborative partnerships, identify external partners that you have contacts with whose work may link with your programme.
  • Determine if the partner would be willing to work with you, your students and your institution and explain the benefits to them of working with a HEI.
  • Use the assessment criteria and learning outcomes of the module and work with the external partner to identify a project area that would be mutually beneficial to the partner, the students and the HEI.
  • Work in conjunction with the external provider to develop and write a live brief that meets the module learning outcomes, assessment criteria and the requirements of the external provider. Agree if equipment/resources needed for the live brief will be supplied by the external partner, or if there is additional cost.
  • Agree the format of the module with the programme team and external examiner.
  • Use the introductory session to highlight the benefits of working with an external partner to the students. Introduce the external provider to assist with the introduction and explanation of the live brief, and to allow them to meet the students.
  • Actively involve the external partner in practical sessions and the module assessment session to create an authentic learning environment.
  • Communicate virtually with the external throughout the module and agree mechanisms for dealing with students’ questions and answers.
  • Build a visit to the external company into the module to add authenticity and enable students to connect with a wider range of professionals.
  • Obtain permission from the students for their work to be used externally to the university.
  • Obtain feedback from students/ external partners to inform future collaborations.
  • Collaboration is more than just working together it a process of shared learning (Gassner et al, 1999).

Transferability to different contexts

This approach has been used within the subject area of Food and Nutrition. However, the key principles for developing collaborative partnerships will be of interest to practitioners from other disciplines such as science, engineering, and technology.


Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Gassner, L.-A., Wotton, K., Clare, J., Hofmeyer, A., & Buckman, J. (1999). Theory meets practice. Evaluation of a model of collaboration: academic and clinical partnership in the development and implementation of undergraduate teaching. Collegian, 6(3), 14-28.

Hitchings, M. (2016). Career opportunities: Connecting design students with industry. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 228, 622-627. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.07.095

Lasker, R., Weiss, E., & Miller, R. (2001). Partnership synergy: A practical framework for studying and strengthening the collaborative advantage. The Milbank Quarterly, 79(2), 179-205. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0009.00203

Nielsen, C., & Cappelen, K. (2014). University-industry collaborations. Higher Education Quarterly, 68, 375-393. https://doi.org/10.1111/hequ.12035

Thomas, S., & Busby, S. (2003). Do industry collaborative projects enhance students’ learning? Education+ Training, 45(4), 226-235. https://doi.org/10.1108/00400910310478157

Image Attributions

Brown puzzle pieces photo by Dmitry Demidov from Pexels

About the Author

Wendy Johnston is a Senior Lecturer at LJMU, a National Teaching Fellow and holds Senior Fellowship status with Advance HE. Wendy is committed to implementing innovative, active learning techniques, developing authentic learning environments through the development of external partnerships/ collaborations, and continuously strives to make learning and teaching enjoyable and memorable.


Personas: creating for ‘One’

Larna Pantrey-Mayer

What is the idea?

Borrowing from the marketing industry standards of pen portraits/personas, in this active process, learners work together to create a final piece as part of a creative team – no individual owns the final piece, as everyone has worked to make it come to be. The process is very dependent on team working and clear communication skills. Learners develop their skills related to those of accepting and understanding other people’s points of view as well as being able to balance conflicting priorities and opinions. A by-product of this project is the development of empathy and coping strategies for those who work with, and have, additional learning needs. Learners learn to amend their communication style to help others either understand their feedback or work out what they need.

An example of an active learning project which used this process, was a campaign designed and developed for a local youth festival. Having four learners working concurrently on four different ideas allowed for each learner to revise their ideas, as and when new information came forward. They were able to more effectively identify gaps in the design and feedback to one another e.g. forgetting pages on a website or the sizing of physical merchandise.

Within a Personas based project, learners learn all the steps in the completion of an audience driven creative brief, as well as: problem-solving, teamworking, resilience to feedback, analysis of critique, time management, empathy, mitigation strategies and they also focus on improving their written and verbal communication.

Why this idea?

This idea came about after discussions with my learners, in which they voiced their concerns that an Awarding Body syllabus did not reflect current industry practice. They were worried that if they decided to pursue work-based education after completing the course, they would be at a disadvantage compared to young people who had taken up internships and apprenticeships rather than full time qualifications (Institute of Student Employers, 2021). As someone who had retrained from industry, I was aware there is merit to some of their concerns. Frequently my colleagues mentioned that new hires required additional training and targets set in order to understand industry specific terminology and processes. This was as well as encouragement to let go of their ideas and preconceptions in order to trust the creative team and its process.

It’s my responsibility to develop an industry-forward pedagogy that focuses on evolving my learners’ soft skills – specifically related to commercial awareness and team working.

From my own point of view, all too often creative learners struggle to create finished products for people that they do not relate to. For example, if a learner, who was particularly keen on music, was asked to create a poster about a sports event, they would design the poster in the style of a music event, and then pepper in references to sport. The result would be confusing and would expose their disinterest, or misunderstandings, in the central motif of the work (Weinstein et al., 2018). This situation would be exacerbated if the learner was asked to think outside of their lived experience, to think outside of their demographic. Most of the time the prospective audience for their work was someone within the same physical or cultural identity, i.e. the same gender, sex, age, race, intellectual or physical ability etc. In short, they struggled to make work for anyone but themselves.

At the beginning of a design project, a learner visualises what their audience will look like. If they are given the freedom to decide this, they usually choose someone, or a group, they can relate to. However, when a learner is asked to make a profile for someone else, they become competitive. They want to challenge their peers to make work for someone they do not identify with. For a teacher this is a wonderfully serendipitous outcome, the group’s final pieces begin to reflect more diverse points of view. The research is broader and the vocabulary of each learner becomes richer.

This way of working emulates a creative production line (Turnbull & Wheeler, 2015). The creative process encourages more voices to be raised and heard, the intention is to protect the original intended audience, not distort them to make the technical process easier or quicker. Each learner produces ideas for another person, they then release their work to be developed by someone else. When the feedback process begins, everyone in the team is invested, but no one has clear ownership – this means feedback can be received more objectively. Honest conversations are had between peers, especially in regards to the clarity of instructions they had received through the team.

How could others implement this idea?

Arguably, there are five steps in the creative process: The Brief, The Research, The Ideation, The Review and The Creation. After the first five stages, in education, we add another stage – The Evaluation.

In this project, the lecturer’s role is as a Project Director; they manage the resources and ensure each member of the team has passed the brief and work on to the next stage. To conduct this exercise, first divide your class into teams of 4, and either give their team a name, or allow them to name their creative team.

The Brief

The teacher sets the creative brief, i.e. the need to advertise something to a new market. The teacher holds back from specifying an audience.

The Research

Research, for a creative project, can be very broad. Often a teacher needs to specify the minimum expectation of what would be considered an adequate level of research, but also encourage learners to go beyond that with a list of suggested further tasks to make their output richer. For example:

Primary research: conducting questionnaires, observations, interviews, site visits etc.

Secondary research: evaluations of websites, animations, posters, analysis of articles, journals, books and documentaries, reflections on contemporary artists and designers supported by listening to podcasts, reading interviews, creating moodboards, etc.

Or a blend of both.

All of the teams are tasked with creating a persona/pen portrait of the product/advertising/promotion’s ideal audience. Each learner can decide who the ideal audience will be. They do not work on this together. A marketing persona/pen portrait is a detailed description of an ideal audience member or buyer. The persona is a list of characteristics and interests laid out like a CV. The persona would include their demographics, such as age, race, and sex, and psychometrics, such as what they value and aspire to. The persona is accompanied by a moodboard for ‘buying inclinations’ etc. A moodboard is a visual collage of things the persona would be interested in, e.g. What would they buy? What brands do they own? What do they watch? What do they wear? What would they read?

Learner A’s persona becomes Project #1

Learner B’s persona is now Project #2,

Learner C’s persona is now Project #3

and Learner D’s Persona is now Project #4.

The Ideation pt.1

For this stage, each team member passes their work on to the peer next in line:

Learner A now works on Project #4

Learner B now works on Project #1

Learner C now works on Project #2

Learner D now works on Project #3

Each learner is asked to fully develop the persona. They are asked to give the persona a narrative, an identity. For more developed projects and learners this may include User Journeys. A User Journey is a visual interpretation, similar to a storyboard, of how an audience interacts with the brand/product you are designing for. In some cases, user journeys can also be supported by Empathy Maps. An empathy map helps designers build a broader understanding of the ‘why’ behind an audiences’ needs and wants. (Munro, 2020) The user journey will depict the individual’s relationship with the brand/products used and advertising online and in the real world.


Customer journey artwork
Figure 1. An example of a current state user journey map


An example of an empathy map template
Figure 2. An example of an empathy map template

The Ideation pt.2

For this stage, each team member passes their work on to the peer next in line:

Learner A now works on Project #3

Learner B now works on Project #4

Learner C now works on Project #1

Learner D now works on Project #2

Using the Research and Ideation pt 1 from their teammates they will begin to develop ideas on how to solve the creative brief for the ‘character’ who has been created. The character is the culmination of the persona and the user journey. The process of how to develop these ideas will depend on what the final outcome will be e.g. wireframes, sketches, scamps, schematics, storyboards (see visual examples below) etc. In general a creative will produce 3-5 different creative solutions for a brief, and create a presentation to demonstrate these ideas.


An example of ‘scamped’ wireframes. These are freestyle drawn plans for wireframes
Figure 3. An example of ‘scamped’ wireframes. These are freestyle drawn plans for wireframes


Image of an example of a developed wireframe
Figure 4. An example of a developed wireframe, created using Adobe software


The Review

At the review each learner will present the Project they completed at the Ideation Pt 2 phase. The entire team will then conduct a round robin of idea presentations.

Learner A will present Project #3

Learner B will present Project #4

Learner C will present Project #1

Learner D will present Project #2

The presentation will be a discussion of how the learner has developed a final idea, in response to the Research and Ideation pt 1 that they were given.

As a group they will give feedback to each other, they will collate ideas, offer suggestions and identify issues to overcome. Each learner will take feedback notes on the project that they have presented. They will then pass this feedback on to the final team mate in their working group.

The Creation

Using the feedback they have been given, each learner will complete and finalise the work they have been given.

Learner A will compete Project #2

Learner B will present Project #3

Learner C will present Project #4

Learner D will present Project #1

By this time every learner will have contributed to everyone’s final piece. Each learner will then evaluate their final piece (the last project they have worked on) and the experience as a whole.

Please see the table to help visualise how the project is managed with a team of four learners. The numbers in the table correspond to the project number.


Ideation pt1

Ideation pt2


Learner A





Learner B





Learner C





Learner D





Transferability to different contexts

The concept can be applied to any context where a project can be broken into discrete pieces – even essay writing, for example:



Peer Review


Learner A





Learner B





Learner C





Learner D





‘Learner develops a particular essay title, identifies a potential bibliography and produces an essay outline.’

The group would then review the work to date. Similarly to The Review, they present a proposal and then identify opportunities and issues within each other’s essay proposals.

The Creation
 ‘Learner completes the essay according to the plan and with the research provided.’

Peer Review
‘Learner proof reads and checks for inaccuracies or other issues.’

‘Learner actions the editorial amends identified at the Peer Review to ensure the essay is complete and meets requirements or is standardised

The idea is scalable, so could be used as a carousel-like starter activity, or an icebreaker. For these adaptations, the phases would need to have shorter and stricter time allotments.

Links to tools and resources

Babich, N. (2020). Wireframe Design & Prototype Must-Knows | Adobe XD Ideas. https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/wireframing/wireframe-design-definition/

Chen, J. (2022). What is a customer journey map and how to make your own [examples included]. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/customer-experience-journey-mapping/

Munro, L. (2020). 10 Tips to Develop Better Empathy Maps | Adobe XD Ideas.  https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/user-research/10-tips-develop-better-empathy-maps/

Tymon, C. (2020). Ten things Marketers should look for from a full-service design agency. https://www.toastdesign.co.uk/ten-things-marketers-should-look-for-from-a-full-service-design-agency/


Institute of Student Employers. (2021, March 17). Graduates lack work-ready skills that businesses need during Covid era, reports ISE Student Development Survey.  https://ise.org.uk/page/graduates-lack-work-ready-skills-that-businesses-need-during-covid-era

Turnbull, S., & Wheeler, C., (2015). The advertising creative process: A study of UK agencies. Journal of Marketing Communications, 23(2), 176-194. https://doi.org/10.1080/13527266.2014.1000361

University of the Arts London. (2021) Level 3 — Diploma and extended diploma in creative practice: Art, design and communication (5th ed.) University of the Arts London. https://www.arts.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0022/305383/UAL558a-L3-DipandExtDip-Creative-Practice_05a.pdf

Weinstein, Y., Sumeracki, M., & Caviglioli, O. (2018). Understanding how we learn (1st ed.). Routledge.

Image Attributions

Figure 1. State journey map by Larna Pantrey-Mayer is used under CC-BY 4.0 licence

Figure 2. Empathy map template by Larna Pantrey-Mayer is used under CC-BY 4.0 licence

Figure 3. Scamped Wireframes (White printer paper) by PicJumbo is used under Pexels license

Figure 4. Developed Wireframes by by Larna Pantrey-Mayer is used under CC-BY 4.0 licence



About the Author

Larna Pantrey-Mayer is the Lead Practitioner for Plumpton College, currently programme managing and teaching the Level 3 and 4 qualification in Teacher Education. She also teaches on the PGCE and delivers various CPD programmes. She has two BAs in creative subjects, an MA in Critical Theory and is an HE Fellow.


The 'Diamond Nine': encouraging student engagement with graduate attributes

Dr Joy Perkins

Photo of a 'Diamond Nine' set of ranked cards.
Figure 1. Image of a ‘Diamond Nine’ set of ranked cards.

What is the idea?

Graduate attributes are designed to make explicit the wide-ranging competencies that students are developing, to prepare them for further study, employment, and life beyond university. However, despite their widespread implementation in UK universities, graduate attributes are often presented as high-level, generic statements, which require student translation at the academic subject level. To support students to understand their meaning and to engage with graduate attributes, the ‘Diamond Nine’ active learning technique can be used. The technique facilitates students to discuss, collaborate, and contextualise their understanding of graduate attributes, to help students start to develop them, during their time at University.

Why this idea?

The ‘Diamond Nine’ technique is an established active learning approach, which involves students ranking and prioritising nine ideas, viewpoints, or pieces of information into what they consider highest to lowest importance (Times Educational Supplement, n.d.). In this case, the ‘Diamond Nine’ technique can help students to start discussing, interpreting, and ordering their own skills and attributes. Engaging students in this type of learning has many benefits, including motivating them to learn while also developing their higher order thinking skills (Vercellotti, 2018).

At the University of Aberdeen, there are 19 Aberdeen Graduate Attributes. Using the ‘Diamond Nine’ technique students can prioritise their top nine attributes into a diamond-shaped hierarchy (see image above). During this small group exercise, students are encouraged to reflect on their academic modules and their co-curricular learning. Discussing how and why they have prioritised and ranked the final ‘Diamond Nine’ is a central feature of this active learning approach. An important part of the exercise is also facilitating students to provide examples of how they have developed these attributes in their curricular and co-curricular learning.

Given the competitive employment landscape, it is crucial that students can demonstrate in-demand skills such as problem-solving, critical-thinking, and self-management to employers to fully enhance their employability. In the current economic climate, simply stating they have a particular competency is not enough (World Economic Forum, 2020). This active learning approach encourages students to engage with graduate attributes, helping students to interpret them in their discipline and supporting students’ articulation of these attributes to future employers or postgraduate recruiters. Interestingly and worthy of highlighting, is that Wong et al. (2021) in their graduate attribute mapping studies, also stress the importance of ‘decoding’ graduate attributes and helping students to understand their transferability in the workplace.

How could others implement this idea?

Limited resources are required to introduce this activity. Students are given a set of graduate attribute cards; each card contains a specific graduate attribute. Alternatively, Post-it® notes can be used and the results displayed on an A1 piece of card. It takes about 10 minutes to explain the rationale for the activity and to distribute the resources. Interestingly, Nguyen et al. (2021) advocate the importance of providing students with the rationale for using specific learning methods, as a crucial component for sustained and active learning.

The exercise can be completed by students working in pairs, or in a small group of 3-4 students. Students are asked to form a diamond arrangement, in which the top graduate attribute card in the diamond is most important. The second, third and fourth rows present the attributes with descending importance and the bottom attribute in the diamond is of least importance in the arrangement (see image above). Discussing ideas in pairs or a small group and agreeing on the top nine cards takes about 15 minutes. Each group should have a rapporteur to report back; sharing findings across groups can be useful to encourage graduate attribute discussion and debate. Typically, feedback to the wider class of approximately 20 students takes about 20 minutes. The session finishes with concluding remarks and next steps (10 minutes).

Overall, the activity takes approximately an hour. The exercise can be easily adapted across higher education institutions through universities preparing their own bespoke set of graduate attribute cards.

Transferability to different contexts

The ‘Diamond Nine’ technique encourages student collaboration, negotiation, and evaluation skills, so it is highly transferable across academic disciplines and contexts. For example, the technique could be used in Geography to stimulate discussion and enable students to reach a consensus on significant environmental impact issues, or in Art History to elicit dialogue around the importance and meaning of visual objects.

This active learning technique can be used with undergraduate or postgraduate students. However, to help encourage in-depth graduate attribute discussion with other stakeholders, the activity would be suitable for use with employers from different employment sectors and organisational sizes, academic staff, and other employability professionals (Perkins & Pryor, 2016). The relative importance of each attribute can again be illustrated through arrangement into a diamond-shaped hierarchy with the top line indicating the most important attribute for that particular stakeholder. Triangulating student findings against recent industry skills reports, or from data collected from employer contacts would add a different dimension to the exercise. Also, comparing the ‘Diamond Nine’ hierarchies of first year students and final year students may also yield surprises, debate, and different views regarding the relative importance of graduate attributes.

Links to tools and resources


Nguyen, K., Borrego, M., Finelli, C., DeMonbrun, M., Crockett, C., Tharayil, S., Shekhar, P., Waters, C., & Rosenberg, R. (2021). Instructor strategies to aid implementation of active learning: A systematic literature review. International Journal of STEM Education, 8(9). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-021-00270-7

Perkins, J., & Pryor, M. (2016). Graduate attributes and employer preferences. AGCAS Phoenix Journal, 148, 12-13.

Times Educational Supplement (n.d.). Diamond 9 templates. https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/diamond-9-templates-11521827

Vercellotti, M. L. (2018). Do interactive learning spaces increase student achievement? A comparison of classroom context. Active Learning in Higher Education, 19(3), 197–210. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787417735606

Wong, B., Chiu, Y., Copsey-Blake, M., & Nikolopoulou, M. (2021). A mapping of graduate attributes: what can we expect from UK university students? Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2021.1882405

World Economic Forum. (2020). The future of jobs report 2020http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf

Image Attribution

Figure 1. Photo of a ‘Diamond Nine’ set of ranked cards by Joy Perkins is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Author

Dr Joy Perkins is based in the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Aberdeen. Her pedagogical research interests and recent publications are in areas such as: enterprise education, digital badges, work-integrated learning, and the role of employer engagement in curriculum development.


Using role play to explore professional situations for practice-based courses

Sue Pinnick

People chatting around a square table in what appears to be a classroom with a projector screen in the background

What is the idea?

This chapter explores how practice-based courses in a professional environment, such as teaching, social work or medicine, can use role play to help students explore ideas of professionalism in different scenarios to prepare them for work-based settings.

Students will work collaboratively in groups, using exploratory dialogic talk in order to reach a consensus on a scenario that they will create from a range of situations.  They will then produce two role plays where they reenact the scenario: the first representing unprofessional behaviour; the second representing professional behaviour. The rest of the groups will have the opportunity to reflect on and ask questions of the scenario. All groups will reflect on the strengths and challenges of the activity itself.

Why this idea?

Evans (2008) suggests that there are two types of teacher professionalism: the professionalism ‘prescribed’ by policies and national standards and the ‘enacted’ professionalism existing in teachers’ practices, predominantly at a school level. Both school mentors and trainee teachers on initial teacher education (ITE) programmes have recognised that learning to be ‘professional’ can be a challenge for some trainee teachers (Pinnick, 2020). However, not only do trainee teachers need to provide evidence of ‘prescribed’ professionalism in order to meet the teacher standards (DfE, 2012), but, perhaps more importantly, they need to enact professionalism on a daily basis, in order to form relationships with both staff and students and adapt to the school community or ‘habitus’ (Bourdieu, 1990). In preparation for their induction into trainees’ initial teaching placement, it is important to cover some of the challenges they may face in the first few weeks.

While, of course, it is always possible to explore professional dilemmas theoretically, since Dewey (1938), educators have identified the fundamental role of experiential, embodied learning in learning. In their U.S based meta-analysis of the effects of drama-based pedagogy on outcomes across the curriculum, Lee et al. (2015) highlighted the impact of drama as an embodied approach to learning. More recently, pioneering neuroscientific research suggests that when our bodies interact through drama, not only do we transport new experiences to the brain, but we deeply encode the information and transform it into knowledge (Damasio, 2021; Gallese & Wojciehowski, 2011; Immordino-Yang & Gotlieb, 2017). Moreover, this activity includes the opportunity for students to use exploratory dialogic talk in order to reach a consensus. Interaction through talk ‘vitally mediates the cognitive and cultural spaces between …learner[s] ‘of any age…and what he or she has yet to know and understand’ (Alexander, 2020, p. 15).

How could others implement this idea?

Put students into groups of approximately four, with a mix of gender, age and background if possible. Ideally, at this stage, they will know each other and be comfortable working in groups.

Give each group two different situations to discuss from the following options:

  • In the classroom
  • Around the school
  • In meetings
  • Observing a lesson
  • Issues with other colleagues
  • Social media
  • After school social events with colleagues
  • Personal social events where you may encounter pupils or colleagues

Give each group two sheets of A3 paper. Give them 30 seconds to bullet point examples of different scenarios that they may come across in their two different situations.

Groups then go and look at what other groups have come up with before revising their own list, e.g. In the classroom: using a mobile phone while teaching.

Groups decide on a final scenario to role play – they must show two versions: one demonstrating how they would behave unprofessionally; one with the professional version (two to three minutes maximum per role play).

After each role play, ask others to ask questions and reflect on potential issues and solutions.

End with a final reflection asking the following questions: what did they learn individually through participating in the role play? What did they learn from watching the others? What did they learn about professionality in schools? What were the benefits and challenges of the activity itself?

Transferability to different contexts

The idea is relevant to all ITE educators but could also be adapted for any course where students participate in a professional practice work placement such as social work, medicine, business or management; engineering or creative industries.  To adapt the activity, the lecturer just needs to alter the different situations to make them appropriate for their context.

Links to tools and resources


Alexander, R. (2020). A dialogic teaching companion. Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Stanford University Press.

Damasio, A. (2021). Feeling & knowing: Making minds conscious. Cognitive Neuroscience, 12(2), 65-66. https://doi.org/10.1080/17588928.2020.1846027

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. Macmillan.

Department for Education. (2012). Teachers’ standards. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-standards

Evans, L. (2008). Professionalism, professionality and the development of education professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56(1), 20-38. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8527.2007.00392.x

Gallese, V., & Wojciehowski H. (2011). How stories make us feel: Toward an embodied narratology. Journal of California Italian Studies 2(1), 1-35. https://doi.org/10.5070/C321008974

Immordino-Yang, M.H., & Gotlieb, R. (2017). Embodied brains, social minds, cultural meaning: Integrating neuroscientific and educational research on social-affective development. American Educational Research Journal, 54 , 344-367. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831216669780

Lee, B. K., Patall, E. A., Cawthorn, S. W., & Steingut, R. R. (2015) The effect of drama-based pedagogy on preK–16 outcomes: A meta-analysis of research From 1985 to 2012, Review of Educational Research, 85(1), 3–49. https://doi.org/10.3102%2F0034654314540477

Pinnick, S. (2020). Mentoring secondary English trainee teachers: a case study. English in Education, 54(3), 251-264. https://doi.org/10.1080/04250494.2020.1777097

Image Attribution

Meeting of people round a table by 14995841 from Pixabay

About the Author

Sue Pinnick taught secondary English for 17 years before moving to Sussex University to  lead the secondary English PGCE and the secondary English Subject Knowledge Enhancement course. She is currently studying for a PhD exploring how the use of drama-based methods in the Key Stage Three English classroom can enhance the critical reading of English literary texts.


4 Assessment and Feedback

peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

~ Ken Blanchard






Image Attribution

Peacock butterfly, by Paolo Oprandi, is used under CC BY 4.0 license.

Introduction to Assessment and Feedback Practices

Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou; Dr Leslie Schneider; Dr Alice Cherestes; and Dr Andrew Middleton

Assessment and Feedback are an integral part of the learning process and although we would have preferred not to make an explicit distinction within this section and the section of Teaching Strategies, the theory that underpins assessment and feedback is too valuable not to be given the right amount of attention within a book entitled ‘Ideas for Active Learning’.

Student assessment and feedback are critical aspects of teaching and learning. In the context of active learning instructional strategies, the focus is on alternative tools like authentic assessment, formative assessment, and peer feedback. Such forms of assessment encourage the growth of student agency and initiative (Klemenčič, 2020) and when carefully designed, they can further promote higher-order thinking processes moving students up in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Tabrizi & Rideout, 2017).

According to Biggs and Tang (2011), assessment needs to be considered in the early stages of planning any learning and teaching activities and it needs to be explicitly aligned to the Learning Outcomes of the course.

One of the biggest obstacles to the effective use of assessment is the lack of assessment literacy for both academics and students (Deeley & Bovill, 2017; Nicol, 2009; Smith et al. 2013). Hancock and East and Merrydew provide practical examples that can be used to facilitate the development of assessment literacy for both staff and students through active workshops where group work not only offers support for the cognitive dimension of learning, but also for the affective dimension (Järvenoja, & Järvelä, 2013). Harvey and Dodd address this issue and support academics’ development of assessment literacy through institutionally established communities of practice that explore authentic assessment.

Assessment literacy presupposes that the purpose of assessment and the marking criteria are clearly understood. One approach to achieve that is by co-creating assessments with students (Bovill, 2020). This would also give learners the opportunity to develop and express their learner actorhood (Klemenčič, 2020). To that end, the guidance provided by Walden and by Horrocks could be adapted for a wide range of contexts.

The formative assessment tasks included in this section, not only aim to support students’ understanding of the topic but also to enhance students’ collaboration skills through group crossword activities (Stockton-Brown) group storytelling activities (Surendran),and digital storytelling activities (Beggs). Group interaction exposes students to different views giving learners the chance to examine dense material from multiple perspectives (Cohen & Sampson, 2001; Mezirow, 1978). To that end, peer-feedback and formative peer assessment can further support the development of collaboration and communication skills as well as critical thinking skills (Topping, 1998; Strijbos & Wichmann, 2018). In their chapter, Cherestes and Schneider describe how Visual Classrooms, a collaborative learning platform, can be used along with carefully scaffolded activities, to enhance students’ feedback literacy.

Although active learning is commonly associated with collaborative and cooperative work, individual active learning tasks and assessments are equally valuable for deeper learning as they encourage ownership of learning. Self-assessment (the ability to make judgements on students’ own approach to task and quality of their work) and self-reflection can be seen as the most critical graduate attributes (Tangney, 2018). Farrow presents how these skills can be achieved through scenario based learning, whereas Saunders links self-reflection with summative assessment in his chapter on the ‘Reflective Elevator Pitch’.

Student engagement is one of the approaches that academics use to evaluate students’ performance with some incorporating engagement and participation in summative assessment elements (Czekanski & Wolf, 2013). Two great examples are included in this section. Perlman-Dee introduces how a combination of low-stakes active engagement assessments that include active participation in class and completion of independent tasks can be used to enhance students’ engagement and learning, whereas Vianya-Estopa incorporates active engagement with discussion forums in summative assessment. When it comes to summative assessment tasks, it is also important to maintain active forms of learning that aim to support the development of key skills students will need beyond the university, as shown with the presentation task introduced by Gowers.

In the last chapter of this section, Betts introduces story-based game learning, and presents through constructive alignment how assessment and peer- and self-reflection can be embedded in game-based learning where in addition to the course learning outcomes, the assessment aligns with the goals of the story’s protagonist.

In summary, within this section the reader will be able to identify active learning strategies for enhancing staff and students’ assessment and feedback literacy, strategies for creating ‘active assessment’ through the direct engagement of students in all assessment steps including the co-creation of assessment modes and assessment criteria; and strategies for developing and implementing authentic, and engaging assessments. These help students develop essential lifelong skills such as collaboration, communication, self-reflection and self-awareness.


Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. S. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does (4th ed.). Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

Bovill, C. (2020). Co-creation in learning and teaching: the case for a whole-class approach in higher education. Higher Education, 79(6), 1023–1037. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00453-w

Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (2001). Implementing and managing peer learning. In D. Boud, R. Cohen & J. Sampson (Eds.), Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315042565

Czekanski, K. E., & Wolf, Z. R. (2013). Encouraging and evaluating class participation. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 10(1), 3–14. https://doi.org/10.53761/

Deeley, S. J., & Bovill, C. (2017). Staff student partnership in assessment: Enhancing assessment literacy through democratic practices. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(3), 463–477. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1126551

Järvenoja, H., & Järvelä, S. (2013). Regulating emotions together for motivated collaboration. In M. Baker, J. Andriessen & S. Järvelä (Eds.), Affective learning together; social and emotional dimensions of collaborative learning. Taylor & Francis Group.

Klemenčič, M. (2020). Students as actors and agents in student-centered higher education. In S. Hoidn & M. Klemenčič (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of student-centered learning and teaching in higher education (pp. 92–108). Routledge.

Mezirow, J. (1978). Perspective transformation. Adult Education, 28(2), 100–110. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/074171367802800202

Nicol, D. (2009). Assessment for learner self-regulation: Enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies. In Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34(3), 335–352. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930802255139

Smith, C. D., Worsfold, K., Davies, L., Fisher, R., & McPhail, R. (2013). Assessment literacy and student learning: The case for explicitly developing students ‘assessment literacy’. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(1), 44–60. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2011.598636

Strijbos, J. W., & Wichmann, A. (2018). Promoting learning by leveraging the collaborative nature of formative peer assessment with instructional scaffolds. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 33(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-017-0353-x

Tabrizi, S., & Rideout, G. (2017). Active learning: Using Bloom’s taxonomy to support critical pedagogy. International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education, 8(3), 3202–3209. https://doi.org/10.20533/ijcdse.2042.6364.2017.0429

Tangney, S. (2018). Promoting engagement, active learning and student ownership. In R. Matheson, S. Tangney, & M. Sutcliffe (Eds.), Transition in, through and out of higher education. Routledge.

Topping, K. (1998). Peer assessment between students in colleges and universities. Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249-276. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543068003249

About the Authors

Dr Christina Magkoufopoulou, SFHEA, has had an extensive career within the UK and EU Higher Education that involved scientific research, teaching and academic development. In her current role, Christina is involved in the delivery of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in HE (PGCAPHE) and other academic development workshops and events. Christina’s scholarly interests focus on Active Learning, Communities of Practice, and Assessment and Feedback.

Dr. Leslie Schneider holds a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University and is a recognized expert on computer-supported collaboration and user-centered design and has consulted for 20 years on using the Internet to support learning and collaboration. She is a co-founder of Visual Classrooms and its Chief Academic Officer.

Dr. Alice Cherestes is an award-winning Senior Faculty Lecturer at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Her passion for teaching led her to develop new active learning strategies to improve student learning.  Alice is a graduate of the NIST Scientific Teaching short course and a speaker in the NIST Happy Hour.

Andrew Middleton is a National Teaching Fellow committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.


4a Assessment and Feedback Practices


Haikus for learning

Dr Jessica Clare Hancock

Photo of book with quote &quot;I am like a fish in love with a bird wishing I could fly

What is the idea?

Students are asked to do different kinds of writing at university, often with the assumption that they know how to write, for example, an essay or report, even though these kinds of writing vary greatly between disciplines and institutions. This activity asks students to produce haikus as a way into a discussion about producing different types of writing, including working to a word limit, and the elements that may help them develop literacies in different types of writing, such as scaffolding and examples. An extended version of this activity also involves students producing sonnets as an alternative to haiku.

Why this idea?

Many students find writing for university assessments difficult for a myriad of reasons, not least because the purposes or kinds of writing expected are not explicitly analysed, but also because many assessment instructions and criteria remain unclear (Hancock, 2019). Despite great strides being made in an academic literacies approach (Lea & Street, 1998; Wingate, 2006), particularly in the gradual professionalisation of learning development (ALDinHE: https://aldinhe.ac.uk/), too often writing itself, as opposed to the content, is not addressed during teaching sessions which leaves students confused and frustrated.

This activity uses poetry. This is a form of writing not regularly used by most students, but one which is relatively easy to get to grips with in terms of the rules and expectations for particular poetic forms, such as haiku and sonnets. These kinds of poems also have the benefit of being fairly short so are something that can be composed during the course of a teaching session. Alternatively, this activity can be undertaken as a group task to be done between sessions, bringing the results to share and discuss with the whole class.

If used with teaching staff who are involved with assessing students, this activity is an effective way of enabling them to see writing from a student’s perspective (for the lecturer or tutor, it often feels ‘obvious’ to them what might be required if they set their students a particular type of written task). If used with students, it can be a way into reflecting on the emotions and practicalities involved in tackling academic writing – but using a low stakes task that is not as difficult to discuss as a real example of a written assessment that they might have struggled with.

How could others implement this idea?

I have used this for students on an MA course about learning and teaching in HE, as a starting point for reflection on their own support for the writing of their students. Participants work in groups to compose a haiku about a particular topic – such as ‘the university experience’. The haiku is intended to be a new kind of writing for them. At first this is the only instruction – after five minutes I provide some more information about haiku, and after another five I provide them with some examples. This enables them to appreciate the importance of scaffolding tasks and working with exemplars (Lavelle, 2009). Each group shares their haiku, and then we discuss their experiences. Participants are prompted to consider how these might relate to the emotions of students who are asked to write an ‘essay’ with an assumption made that they would know what this was – and how much more difficult it might be to gain information on what an ‘essay’ might be, as this differs considerably between disciplines, institutions, and countries, as opposed to a set format like a haiku. When I have also given groups the option of a sonnet (usually if it is a ‘between class’ activity), we also discuss the differences between these two formats, and how these might relate to assessments for their students – for example, the sonnet has more complex rules but a higher word count.

We discuss how participants might scaffold writing and assessment for their students, and explicit links are made to assessment examples they provide for their own students. The concept of providing examples occasionally proves controversial, with some concerned that it might encourage students to cheat by copying the example verbatim. If this happens, we explore ways in which this could be avoided (by designing it out of the assessment, perhaps through student creation of topics, or by using writing from a similar but non-identical assessment, perhaps from the WRASSE bank of HE writing examples in a variety of disciplines: https://wrasse.plymouth.ac.uk/), but we also discuss the difficulty of being asked to produce something without an exemplar.

During one iteration of the task, several participants commented that it had been eye-opening to be put in the student position and that it would change their approach to assessment preparation. The activity involves group work so participants benefit from peer learning, which is important in writing development (Wagner, 2016), and can share their feelings about the task. Learners leave the session with a sense of how an academic-literacies approach has benefited them, and how it might assist their students.

Transferability to different contexts

This could also be adapted to be used directly with students themselves – they would undertake the same composition activity, with varied instructions, and then would reflect on the value of utilising the different kinds of support made available to them, and also the emotions engendered by trying out a new form of writing, and what might help counter negative feelings. Participants of the activity often discuss the benefits of approaching this new type of writing in a group, so students could be encouraged to set up their own peer support to give feedback on their assessments during the course of their degree.

If used directly with students themselves, they could be asked to work in groups to compose a poem (haiku or sonnet) on the topic of their actual module assessment. They would then share these with the rest of the class, and discuss how they felt approaching writing about their subject in this particular format, and how this compares to their confidence in producing the actual module assessment (for example, an essay or report).

Links to tools and resources

Writing for assignments e-library: https://wrasse.plymouth.ac.uk/


Hancock, J. C. (2019). ‘It can’t be found in books’: how a flipped-classroom approach using online videos can engage postgraduate students in dissertation writing”. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 16. https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.v0i16.485

Lavelle, E. (2009). Writing through college: Self-efficacy and instruction. In R. Beard, D. Myhill, M. Nystrand & J. Riley (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of writing development (pp. 415-422). Sage.

Lea, M. R., & Street, B.V. (1998). Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157-172. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079812331380364

Wagner, S. (2016). Peer feedback: Moving from assessment of learning to assessment for learning. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (Special Edition: Academic Peer Learning, Part Two). https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.v0i0.335

Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), 457-469. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510600874268

Image Attributions

Like a fish quote photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr Jessica Hancock is Head of Learning and Teaching at the University of Winchester, where she is programme lead for the MA in Learning and Teaching in HE, and CASTLE (Celebration and Recognition Scheme for Teaching and Learning Expertise – supporting HEA fellowship applications). She has published on academic writing, and compassionate and identity-focused approaches to developing teaching in HE.


Active assessment literacy

Aimee Merrydew and Matt East

What is the idea?

A common challenge across the higher education (HE) sector relates to assessment, especially students’ understanding of the specifics around assessed activity. Drawing on interdisciplinary case studies, this chapter explores the role of collaborative analysis and annotation practices in helping students to develop assessment literacies. In doing so, the chapter demonstrates that collaborative annotation can be a powerful tool for improving students’ knowledge and understanding of assessment requirements, extending across past submission analysis, research proposals, and ethics submissions. Talis Elevate, a collaborative annotation tool, is the platform used to facilitate assessment literacy activities in this example, but the idea can be applied using various technologies.

Why this idea?

Assessment literacy is critical for several reasons. Assessments are integral to HE since they are often used to assure academic and professional standards, measure whether learning outcomes have been achieved, and determine students’ degree classifications (McConlogue, 2020). Assessments are also tools for learning that help students to identify their strengths and areas for development, promoting critical reflection that will serve them well during and beyond university (Carless & Boud, 2018; Sambell, McDowell, et al., 2012). Yet many students struggle to understand assessment criteria or why assessments matter for their learning beyond the attainment of grades, creating dissatisfaction with assessments and causing frustration when expectations and desired outcomes are not achieved (Sambell, Brown, et al., 2017; Winstone & Boud, 2021). At the same time, educators might assume students understand assessment criteria and miss opportunities to embed assessment literacies into course design, impacting students who are unfamiliar with assessment activities, processes, and expectations.

Collaborative annotation offers many pedagogical potentials regarding academic skills development. Cohn (2020) addresses several educational opportunities that arise from collaborative digital reading and annotation activities, such as developing shared understandings of the syllabus via annotation. Chen et al. (2010) explored collaborative annotation tools to correct misunderstandings of assessment activity, create shared understandings of assessment criteria, and identify writing errors, demonstrating impact not only on students’ assessment literacy but also general reading comprehension.

Despite these opportunities, the possibility for collaborative annotation to build assessment literacies is not widely researched. In what follows, we outline an activity with step-by-step instructions you can use to develop students’ assessment literacies. The activity is intended to create meaningful learning experiences through which students are empowered to reach their full potential in assessments.

How could others implement this idea?

Step 1: Introduce students to the assessment and discuss the criteria with them, ensuring opportunities for questions to identify and clarify any areas of uncertainty. Following constructive alignment principles, this type of activity works well early on in a module to allow students time to practise and apply what they learn to their own assessments (Biggs & Tang, 2011).

Step 2: Provide students with a variety of assessments, either ‘mock’ submissions or prior student submissions (with permissions) across grade boundaries for them to peer review, using a collaborative annotation tool such as Talis Elevate. These exemplars could illustrate good, satisfactory, and poor practice, but can also focus on other activities such as interpretation of writing styles, identifying plagiarism and collusion, or highlighting elements you feel will spark discussion and debate among the learning community. We recommend excluding grading from this process to ensure feedback is the core goal of the task and reduce the focus on grades (Barnes, 2018).

Step 3: Outline the collaborative peer review activity, including why it is beneficial for learning development, how long the task should take, who students will work with during the activity, and what tool they will use to complete it. You need to ensure students can access and use the collaborative annotation tool, which you can ascertain by providing a low- or no-stakes activity (e.g. instructing students to make one ungraded annotation on a source to familiarise them with the annotation tool itself). If collaborative annotation activities are new for students, it is equally important to frame the expected social discourse within such an educational domain (Cohn, 2021).

Step 4: Assign students into small groups and explain that you want them to work together to provide constructive feedback on the exemplars, using the assessment criteria to help them identify strengths and areas for development. Establish ground rules for respectful interaction, i.e. explain that when they disagree with a peer’s annotation, they should support their disagreement with critical rationale and evidence, before engaging in discussion. The aim is to come to a consensus, mimicking common peer review processes used in academia and workplace reviews.

This feedback should be added to the annotations at relevant points in the exemplars on the collaborative annotation tool so comments are visible to the wider group. Where consensus is reached, it should be made explicit to the learning community to help them identify good practice to take forward in their own assessments. Encouraging criticality, whilst maintaining respect for the author and providing constructive feedback, is essential for developing students’ assessment literacies in a supportive environment.

Step 5: Allocate time after the small group activity to discuss the annotations as a whole group. This discussion activity creates opportunities not only to talk through (mis)understandings about the assessment and peer review activity, but also encourages students to reflect on what they learnt in relation to their own academic practice. For example, you can encourage students to consider their own strengths and areas for development for them to address in preparation for their own assessment.

While ‘active assessment literacy’ can be adopted for synchronous, asynchronous, online, or in-situ modalities, we recommend a process of reflective review is undertaken in a synchronous space to allow for deeper discussion and collective synthesis.

Transferability to different contexts

Challenges around assessment literacy are ubiquitous across disciplines and modes of study. The above collaborative annotation activity has proven useful for addressing these challenges across various HE contexts and assessment formats. For example, it has been used by students to peer review previous assignment submissions in English (Merrydew, 2022), ethics applications in Sport and Exercise Science (East, 2019), and research proposals in Social Sciences, demonstrating its transferability and usefulness as a tool for active assessment literacy development.

Links to tools and resources


Barnes, M. (2018, January 10). No, students don’t need grades. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-no-students-dont-need-grades/2018/01

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does (4th ed.). Open University Press.

Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315–1325. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

Cohn, J. (2021). Skim, dive, surface: Teaching digital reading. West Virginia University Press.

Chen, J., Chen, M. C. & Sun, Y. S. (2010). A novel approach for enhancing student reading comprehension and assisting teacher assessment of literacy. Computers and Education, 55(3), 1367–1382. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.06.011

McConlogue, T. (2020). Assessment and feedback in higher education: A guide for teachers. UCL Press. https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10096352/

East, M. (2019, July 24). Using Talis Elevate for collaborative annotation of ethics submissions: Hear from a principal lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. Talis. https://talis.com/2019/07/24/talis-elevate-case-study-adrian-scruton-principal-lecturer-and-academic-lead-employability-anglia-ruskin-university/

Merrydew, A., (2022, February 14). Confidence is key: Building students’ academic reading literacies through collaborative annotation, Making Digital History. https://makingdigitalhistory.co.uk/2022/02/14/confidence-is-key-building-students-academic-reading-literacies-through-collaborative-annotation/

Sambell, K., McDowell, L., & Montgomery, C. (2012). Assessment for learning in higher education (1st ed.). Routledge.

Sambell, K., Brown, S., & Race, P. (2017). Helping students appreciate what’s expected of them in assessment. Edinburgh Napier University. https://lta.hw.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/GUIDE-NO8_Assessment-Literacy.pdf

Winstone, N. E. & Boud, D. (2020). The need to disentangle assessment and feedback in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2020.1779687

About the Authors

Aimee Merrydew is a Curriculum Developer in the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence at Keele University, where she specialises in student success. She is interested in supporting students to build their academic literacies and sense of belonging in their learning communities, motivating her to work with colleagues across disciplines to co-create equitable curricula that empower students to reach their full potential. Her research interests are varied, but often centre around the use of creativity and technology to nurture educational communities and enhance learning and teaching experiences.

Matt East is Education Lead at Talis Education. His work focuses around embedding good pedagogy and practice into Talis products, developing and supporting communities of practice, and scholarship across communities. Matt has worked in HE for over a decade, spanning SU leadership, technology enhanced learning, product Management, and educational leadership roles. His educational interests are based around collaborative annotation, digital reading,  student engagement, learning communities and student voice. Matt is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Authority (PFHEA), holds a PGCert in T+L, and an MBA.


‘Operation authentic assessment redesign’: supporting active learning through peer-mentorship within a community of practice

Dr Jen Harvey and Dr Derek Dodd

What is the idea?

Academic staff often lack the time, and the opportunities, to discuss their teaching and assessment practices with colleagues, and have reported a dearth of practical direction on embedding active learning strategies within their taught courses (Centre for Higher Education Research, Policy & Practice, 2019).

In 2021, Technological University (TU) Dublin staff initiated a twin-track structured approach to supporting lecturers to innovate and transform their assessment practices based on the principles of ‘authentic assessment’ and the design of active learning experiences where students engage in the practical application of knowledge, skills, and competencies in scenarios that replicate ‘real-world’ challenges or require the ‘performance of exemplary tasks’. The approach entailed the creation of a ‘scholars and supporters’ peer-mentorship scheme, underpinned by the support of a broader authentic assessment Community of Practice (CoP).

Why this idea?

Research has shown that communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) can be a catalyst for learning within organisations and the engagement of often time-constrained academic staff with meaningful professional and academic development opportunities (Lantz-Andersson et al., 2018; Patton & Parker, 2017). Cognisant of the view that little is known about the effectiveness of ‘artificially created’ (Hara, 2009, p. 5) or ‘arranged’ (Palermo, 2017, p. 20) communities of practice, in 2021 an authentic assessment CoP was established with the aim of facilitating the exchange of practices and ideas between teaching staff interested in further developing an ‘authentic’ approach where students were more actively involved within assessment processes (Kearney & Perkins, 2014). Membership to the community and associated activities was open to all staff. Drawing upon community expertise, a series of weekly practice exchange workshops were organised over the duration of the initiative that aimed to build internal capacity and increase community membership.

To provide a more structured support for staff wishing to make a more substantial change to their assessment and feedback, a scholars and supporters’ scheme was also established, under which individual instructors (‘scholars’) and more experienced academic colleagues (‘supporters’) could apply for small bursaries to participate in a peer practice-exchange and mentorship programme. The redesign scholars and their projects were purposefully selected to provide a diverse and representative reflection of the university’s constituent disciplines. As a result, there was more of a likelihood that at least one of the redesigns would be of interest or relevant to any interested lecturer’s working practice. This also had the benefit of allowing us to group scholars together into disciplinary subgroups, each of which was mentored by a supporter with experience and expertise relevant to their projects.

The initiative sought to provide a range of different opportunities for university staff: academics could drop into CoP workshops of interest or access online resources, Scholars could develop their assessment practices in concrete ways, with input from academic mentors and the broader CoP, culminating in the development of case studies that would inform a set of institutional guidelines and best-practice recommendations for  authentic assessment across the university, Supporters could extend their knowledge and experience by engaging with colleagues with a shared interest with different practices or from other disciplines.

This twin-track approach provided participants with a structured and programmatic footing for the sharing of knowledge and practice between community members. Supporters’ who had direct responsibility for advising and mentoring each scholar, reported benefits from both giving and receiving feedback to specific projects and more broadly within an informal ‘outer track’ made up of CoP members. ‘Scholars’ gained access to two comparatively formal and informal peer knowledge and practice exchange ‘tracks’ within the CoP. They also became a kind of central ‘core’ within the comparatively informal CoP, modelling the process of embedding authentic assessment in their (re)designs and sharing their practice, experiences, and reflections in the form of workshop presentations, blog entries, and case studies that could provide a more lasting resource for our broader teaching and learning community.

Active learning outcomes reported within the project assessment redesigns, evidenced a shift towards the provision of authentic workplace-related opportunities for students. Examples cited included students responding to real project briefs, engaging with industry-based technology specialists or industry partners on collaborative projects that focussed on critical thinking and the development of metacognitive skills, obtaining and responding to oral and written feedback from different sources. Evidence of student learning was presented in (e)portfolios, vivas, work-based learning journals and employment reports. All scholars indicated that they planned to continue to develop their redesign work in the following academic year

How could others implement this idea?

Communities of practice can provide a supportive environment for fostering informal learning and the sharing of good practice amongst colleagues, while also allowing for differing levels of participation. Associated workshops or activities, help to encourage practice exchange and build a sense of CoP identity. While the addition of a ‘scholars and supporters’ component permits a more formal peer support and mentoring structure with the benefits of ensuring more tangible results in terms of changes in practice, while also providing an engaging and exemplary focal point for the broader community.

Promote interactions and peer-exchange within the community: We recommend providing a variety of mediums for peer engagement and the sharing of practice and knowledge, such as interactive workshops, ‘masterclasses’ with invited experts, and the asynchronous online sharing of ideas and resources among community members.

Create active contact points and showcase participants’ work: To bridge the connection between the core peer-mentorship group and the broader CoP, this initiative promoted the work of scheme participants by convening ‘meet the scholar’ events in which instructors would provide a presentation on their planned assessment redesigns, followed by a discussion facilitated by their mentor ‘supporter’. For CoP members who could not attend synchronous events, a ‘meet the scholars’ section was added to the scheme’s website, in which each instructor was profiled, and their project detailed. From this page, visitors were then invited to ‘follow the progress’ of each scholar by engaging with their reflective blog.

Develop a framework for practical guidance: In addition to the direct support of their mentors and peers, it can be helpful for the developers of a ‘scholars and supports’ initiative to provide an initial conceptual model or framework to guide participants’ practical work. In this case, an ‘authentic assessment redesign framework’ with four core dimensions was created, not as a prescriptive, linear blueprint for developing authentic assessment but a set of common dimensions to be used as a general guide for assessment (re)design. Members of the scheme and broader CoP would be invited at various stages to contribute to the iteration of this framework, culminating in a set of recommendations·

Adopt a goal-oriented active learning approach: Align the work of participants with a set of agreed targets and goals to be achieved over a specific timeframe. In the case of this initiative, scholars were required to reflect at regular intervals on their progress via a blog and ultimately asked to furnish a case study outlining their project and its development.

Transferability to different contexts

The model adopted here, of combining a formal and informal community of practice and a more structured ‘scholars and supporters’ scheme, could easily be adapted to any context where practitioners seek to come together to share and affect practice, deepen their knowledge and expertise, and build peer relationships with their colleagues. In this specific case, the CoP formed around the shared goal of promoting and developing ‘authentic assessment’ as an active learning strategy, but this approach would be equally applicable to any initiative with the aim of enhancing teaching and learning practices within an educational setting.

  • The idea could be transferred to professional development contexts as well as project-based activities in postgraduate or undergraduate courses
  • Industry or community partners could be involved as project supporters to enhance authenticity within the programme tasks
  • Support for the establishment or creation of professional development related communities of practice can help build institutional capacity, and develop strategic expertise and specialist areas to inform professional practices

Links to tools and resources


Centre for Higher Education Research, Policy & Practice. (2019). Active learning strategies for higher education. CHERPP, 1-175.

Hara, N. (2009). Introduction. In N. Hara (Ed.), Communities of practice: Fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the workplace, (pp. 1-6). Springer.

Kearney, S. P., & Perkins, T. (2014). Engaging students through assessment: The success and limitations of the ASPAL (Authentic Self and Peer Assessment for Learning) model. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.53761/

Palermo, C. (2017). The role of higher education in facilitating communities of practice to support health professionals practice. In J. McDonald & A. Cater-Steel (Eds.), Implementing communities of practice in higher education: Dreamers and schemers (pp. 19-28). Springer.

Patton K. & Parker. M. (2017). Teacher education communities of practice: More than a culture of collaboration,” Teaching and Teacher Education, (67), 351–360. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.06.013

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge University Press.

About the Authors

Dr Jen Harvey is Head of the Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre (LTTC) at Technological University Dublin. Her background is in science, with a PhD in Science from Glasgow University. She has been involved in the development of teaching, learning and assessment strategies at TU Dublin (formerly DIT) for over two decades. She is involved in teaching on a number of LTTC programmes and coordinates the Assessment and Feedback CPD module. Her research interests relate to Communities of Practice, Student assessment and feedback strategies and practitioner evaluation.

Dr Derek Dodd is a learning development officer at Technological University Dublin. He has a background in the humanities, sociology, and discourse studies and completed his PhD in higher education policy at the University of Plymouth. In his current role, he promotes and supports research-informed learning, teaching and assessment practices, and digital capacity building, across TU Dublin’s teaching and learning community. He currently coordinates the university’s authentic assessment community of practice, and lectures on its postgraduate and CPD teaching and learning courses.


Using the 'unessay' as active co-creation of marking criteria

Dr Victoria Grace Walden

Fantasy image of book story

What is the idea?

The ‘unessay’ offers students flexibility and allows them to creatively respond to topics studied on a module. Rather than write an essay, students can decide what they will create: this could be a podcast, a model, a comic book, a board game, or a whole range of other responses including an essay if they wish. One of the hesitancies teachers can have of the unessay is that it is too difficult to grade. The case study offered here is one potential solution to this issue: enabling students to co-create marking criteria for their unessays through a peer-review process.

Initially defined in a blog by O’Donnell (2012), the unessay follows the following format:

  • you choose your own topic
  • present it how you want
  • and are then evaluated on how compelling and effective you are.

O’Donnell (2012) argues that whilst the essay form ‘should be extremely free and flexible, (it) is instead often presented as a static and rule-bound monster that students must master in order not to lose marks’ (no page nb, online). In response, Gal (2013) highlights how the unessay promotes metacognition by relegating essay form to the background and encouraging a focus on process (no page nb, online). Another positive about the unessay is that it resists Eurocentric ideas about knowledge presentation and is more inclusive for students with different learning needs, who may have a preference and strength for organising their thoughts in ways other than the essay.

Why this idea?

The unessay is becoming increasingly popular amongst radical pedagogues, resisting the traditional essay form in favour of more inclusive assessment. This is illustrated by the numerous blogs that populate any Google search for ‘unessay’. Whilst we might see the unessay as supporting models like Universal Design for Learning (https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl) and decolonising agendas, its radical potential lies beyond such institutionalised policies. It moves away from the very idea of models or agendas, dismantling the power relations that Paolo Freire identified in the traditional ‘banking approach’ to education, in which students are seen as ‘containers’ to be filled by the knowledgeable lecturer (Freire, 1970, p. 69-70). On a more practical, and perhaps less radical note, one of the top priorities of students today is maximising the employability potentials offered by their degree. Yet many university courses still assess primarily through essays, despite the fact it is not a form used in most jobs outside academia. The unessay allows students to develop portfolios that speak not only to their own identities, interests, and culture, but also their skills and future ambitions. It also gives students agency to make choices about how they learn and present their learning.

However, the unessay can induce anxiety in teachers regarding the equity of assessment. In discussions with colleagues, some were baffled by the way you could compare a board game to a podcast or performance in the grading criteria. My approach of co-creating marking criteria addresses this issue. Furthermore, it helps students engage actively with the learning outcomes of the module, mitigating against the comment: ‘I don’t know what is expected of me’. The addition of this co-creation process to the unessay assessment is inspired by Freire’s ‘problem-posed method’, which he argues resists the banking approach in favour of recognising learning as a dialogue between ‘teacher-students’ and ‘students-teachers’ in which ‘they become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow’ (1970, p. 78).

How could others implement this idea?

  1. Set students an independent study task to create a draft proposal for their unessay project using a template. The template is included as an appendix to this chapter.

  2. Students bring their proposal to class, and share their ideas with their peers, including the teacher. The idea here is not to develop the project itself (which can be done in earlier sessions), but to share project outlines to get a sense of the diversity of projects across the cohort.

  3. As students present their proposals, the teacher acts as scribe, identifying the different types of projects in terms of topics and format. This could be collated on a Google Doc, Padlet or other collaborative working document. The aim here is to present all of the projects in one place, so students and teacher(s) can see the diversity.

  4. In groups (self-selecting or teacher created), the students design potential marking criteria across a number of different topics and formats (projects are divided equally across working groups) checking each against the module learning outcomes. Each group will focus on a specific type of project, i.e. one group will look at podcasts, one traditional essays, another games, another artistic responses.

  5. Students then move between groups, offering peer-review on the different marking criteria designed by each group. At this stage, students will have the opportunity to compare their own decisions on one format to another – that of a distinct group.

  6. The class, as a whole, come to an agreement on comparative marking criteria across the different types of projects. These are recorded on the collaborative document, which is locked for editing at the point of approval. The marking criteria should have overall agreed headings, but the specifics of what this might look like in each format can be detailed below.

  7. The document is used by students to inform their work and by the markers to assess.

Whilst you could use a traditional essay marking criteria as a framework from which to work, I would suggest avoiding this so as to truly decentralise ‘the essay’ from the experience and encourage students to think more creatively and freely. When we have compared work against the ‘essay’, i.e. by asking students what is comparative to a 2,000 written piece, many students have opted for the essay as the easy option (these were their words, not mine).

To truly create the type of dynamic promoted by critical pedagogues of community (hooks, 2003) and ‘teacher-students’ and ‘students-teachers’ (Freire 1970, p. 78), the teacher should always be conscious of stepping back from controlling the criteria design. They should listen to the different proposals and rationales students present, participate in the different group discussions as both an equal and someone with experience of assessing work, who can bring this particular subject position to bear on the conversations but without presenting ‘correct’ answers.

Returning to this co-created grading criteria as part of a reflection process after the release of feedback could further encourage students to not only think about think through the unessay experience, but think about assessment and feedback. Regrettably, on the module in which this was applied, the students get their feedback on assessments a few months after the module has finished so we do not have this opportunity.

Transferability to different contexts

This activity is transferable between a range of contexts. It is designed to encourage students to engage with the marking criteria of their module actively and critically, regardless of subject specialism. It could as easily be performed in separate seminar groups or across the entire cohort in a lively lecture session, in which students could move between a wider variety of groups. Using collaborative documents like Google Docs or Padlet also enables it to be carried out online. In entirely remote or online distance learning contexts, tools such as Talis Elevate or forums could also be used, with each student adding their proposal to a separate Talis interactive or forum post where others can comment on it.

Links to tools and resources


CAST. (2022). Universal Design for Learning. https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

Gall, M. (2013, May 16). The unessay and metacognition. Daniel Paul O’Donnell. http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/blog/the-unessay-and-metacognition

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. Routledge.

O’Donnell, D.P. (2012, September 4). The unessay. Daniel Paul O’Donnell. http://people.uleth.ca/~daniel.odonnell/Teaching/the-unessay

Image Attribution

Story emerging from a book image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

About the Author

Dr Victoria Grace Walden is a senior lecturer and Director of Learning Enhancement in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex, and a member of the Central Foundation Year teaching team. She started her teaching career in FE, trained teachers and led staff action learning coaching sets. Her research specialism is digital Holocaust memory, and her scholarship interests include: critical digital pedagogies, media education, and independent learning. She sits on the Board of the Media Education Association and is founder and co-chair of the Memory Studies Association’s Museums and Memory working group.


Student-led peer marking criteria

Dr Janet Horrocks



Word cloud
Figure 1. Word Cloud


Learning by working with peers is a key to student learning. This may involve working cooperatively or collaboratively to address a problem  and in this piece we  refer to groups working collaboratively on a problem. Group working can present problems for students if some group members dominate the discussions and decision making or others in the group are seen as ‘freeriders’ and take a back seat. The approach asks the group itself to develop a set of criteria for assessing peer contributions. For each criteria, students are asked to define what a contribution that would be awarded excellent would look like and then define what would lead to the award of a fail grade. The task actively engages students in thinking about how to work together as a group. Revisiting the criteria during the course of the module gives space for reflection on the way that the group is working.

Why this idea?

Working as a collaborative group is seen as essential to many programmes of study (Riebe et al., 2016)  but is not without its problems for both participating students and staff supporting students. The benefits of working in a group such as developing a learning community, developing self esteem, being actively involved in the learning process and developing an understanding of how groups work are supported by the literature (such as Dochy et al., (2003), Hammer Chiriac (2014), Laal & Ghodsi (2012), and Laurillard (2012). There are however, significant challenges to working in a group: dealing with the logistics of a group, dealing with different levels of motivation from group members and dealing with the additional demands of communication and discussion that working as a group entails (Davies, 2009; Forsell et al., 2021). These challenges can be addressed from two perspectives:

Engineering a situation in which students work together effectively and develop the skills for working in groups

Making sure any assessment mechanisms fairly rewards effort and intellectual input so that assessments with elements of group work are perceived as robust.

If the first is successful, then the second will be less problematic as the group will be engaged and working together. The support and management of the group itself should thus be prominent in the mind of staff running exercises that rely on group work.

In some situations, learner groups may be already established; however, in other situations groups are formed de-novo. For a newly formed group of students, activities that develop trust and understanding are key to developing a fruitful working environment.

With this context in mind we wanted to support students’ participation in a module where working collaboratively as a group was central to the design of the module. At the start of the module we asked the group to discuss the peer marking criteria that they would like to use at the end of the module to assess the contribution of different members of the group. The use of co-created grading criteria generates a set of criteria that will be understood by all students in the group (Meer & Chapman, 2015). The co-creation exercise was designed to prompt the students to interrogate their own ideas of good working practice and consider working practices as a group. The activity stimulated debate within the groups which allowed conversations to take place about issues that students might have around group work.

How could others implement this idea?

For students to develop peer marking criteria, at least two 30 minute sessions need to be identified during the course of the activity. One of these sessions should be before the group activity has started (possibly during the initial orientation) and the other should be a point around halfway through their activity.

In the first session the students are asked to sit together in their groups (or put together in a breakout room if you are delivering the session online) with a large piece of paper (if working in person) or an online whiteboard if working online (e.g. MS Whiteboard or Google Jamboard).

Students are invited to identify facets of behaviour and ways of working that are important for their group to work well together and could be included in a set of peer marking criteria. The students are encouraged to have a wide-ranging conversation at this stage. Once a set of criteria have been identified, the students are asked what they think these behaviours would look like from an ‘excellent’ member of the team and how behaviours would manifest by a ‘poor’ member of the team. The lecture/facilitator encourages the use of examples of what each type of behaviour would look like. If good communication is considered to be an important facet of behaviour, what is an example of good communication? Students submit a summary of the different criteria with examples of excellent and poor behaviour which is stored in an area accessible to all group members.Students most frequently chose criteria based around communication (communication, listening) and commitment (attendance, contribution, commitment, participation, reliability)

In the second session (halfway through the group work activity) each group is invited to revisit the criteria they have identified. This session is held as a discussion with the lecturer or facilitator and presents an opportunity to explore the way in which the group is operating. Do they need to add any criteria? Do they now think that some criteria are irrelevant?

In the final assessment of peer input the students are asked to consider each criteria and give a holistic grade to each of their peers. How this is used will depend on the assessment strategy for the module.

Transferability to different contexts

This approach could be used in any situation where there is a peer grading element to group work. It is particularly useful where groups are formed from mixed cohorts where expectations and norms of group working may differ.

Links to tools and resources

WordClouds.co.uk: https://www.wordclouds.co.uk/


Dochy, F., Segers, M., van den Bossche, P., & Gijbels, D. (2003). Effects of problem-based learning: a meta-analysis from the angle of assessment. Learning and Instruction, 13(5), 533-568. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0959-4752(02)00025-7

Davis. W. M. (2009). Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions. Higher Education, 58(4), 563-584. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-009-9216-y

Forsell, J., Forslund Frykedal, K., & Hammar Chiriac, E. (2021). Teachers’ perceived challenges in group work assessment. Cogent Education, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186x.2021.1886474

Hammar Chiriac, E. (2014). Group work as an incentive for learning- students’ experiences of group work. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00558

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science. Routledge.

Laal, M., & Ghodsi, S. (2012). Benefits of collaborative learning. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 486-490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.12.091

Meer, N., & Chapman, A. (2015). Co-creation of marking criteria: students as partners in the assessment process. Business and Management Education in HE. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.11120/bmhe.2014.00008

Riebe, L., Girardi, A., & Whitsed, C. (2016). A systematic literature review of teamwork pedagogy in higher education. Small Group Research, 47(6), 619-664. https://doi.org/10.1177/1046496416665221

Image Attribution

Figure 1. Word Clouds by Janet Horricks is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence and Generated using https://www.wordclouds.co.uk

About the Author

Dr Janet Horrocks is a lecturer at Abertay University and divides her time between leading the Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice and lecturing in biomedical science. She has a long-standing commitment to promoting active learning and has introduced substantial elements of enquiry-based learning into the Biomedical Science programme at Abertay.


Group crosswords as formative assessment tasks

Dr Melanie Stockton-Brown

Screenshot of Padlet task
Figure 1. Screenshot of Padlet task

What is the idea?

The Covid pandemic has seen an en masse shifting of learning to move online, which has created barriers and unexpected challenges, as well as some unforeseen positive aspects (such as recording of teaching sessions which enables closed captioning to be added to recordings).

Group learning in a larger cohort has been further complicated by online learning. Delivering formative assessment through a live online group crossword task was developed, with considerable success. A crossword was created with the clues linking to key unit terms and knowledge, with a mixture of basic and high-level content. Students were able to add their comments/ answers online as a group in Padlet, together completing the crossword. This changes the student’s learning from passive to active; and leads to increased engagement and participation, as well as noticeably higher application of the content in later unit assessments.

Why this idea?

Meaningful formative assessment is crucial to enhancing students’ active learning, and to their student experience. However, it can be difficult to engage students with formative assessment, either due to ongoing assessment/ grade anxiety, or due to feelings that the task is lesser, if not contributing to an overall grade. For this reason, I designed a task that was formative, in that the students (and me as the lecturer) could gauge their individual understanding of a topic, in a more informal and active way.

In doing so, I was drawing upon Lee’s idea of enculturing assessment (Lee, 2012), through creating a task that assessed knowledge that was engaging, interesting, and did not add to assessment anxiety. It has been found that VLEs often enable more successful sharing of information and ideas between students, as well as between the lecturer and the students (Gannon-Leary & Fontainha, 2007). This virtual ‘community’ of learners was evident during this task, as the students worked together to solve the crossword. When a student posted the incorrect answer to one of the questions, I observed that other students would comment on this with an encouraging statement, such as ‘I thought that too, but I think that the answer is X, as I remember in our lectures that….’ . This demonstrates the active learning community that was being supported, which had not been present before.

The focus on learning through puzzle-based tasks such as crosswords has been found by Nirmal et al. (2020) to be very effective pedagogic tools for reviewing and reinforcing the concepts taught in previous sessions or in lectures. See Rustamov (2020) for a reflection of using crossword puzzles with mathematics teaching.

This session therefore worked well to facilitate active learning, as it combined a variety of different types of learning stimuli. Students feedback that they enjoyed ‘doing something, not just listening’. This led to a noticeable difference in their final summative assessment on the topic, as many of them had retained high levels of comprehension and contextual understanding of the topic.

How could others implement this idea?

I chose 10 key items of content that we had previously covered together in class and were important for the students to understand. I chose to include some more simple questions, and some that are more challenging. I wrote short questions for each of these, framed in a way that had one specific answer – so these are not designed to be cryptic or open-ended questions.

Once I had these 10 written answers, I then wrote them in Excel and starting looking for letters that overlapped in the answers. I chose the longest answer to be written vertically, to create a ‘backbone’ on which to place the other answers. Finding vowels that words have in common was the easiest and quickest way I found to achieve this.

Once I had this order arranged, I then typed the words into a blank Excel page. Once completed, colour the cells with no letters in (which I did in black); and then remove the words, leaving blank/ white squares. I screenshotted the page and saved it as image. The process of making the word search took about an hour to plan. Alternatively, online crossword generators can be easily found too.

I then used a Padlet board to share the crossword image with the students, as background on the Padlet board. A Padlet board can be set up for free. It is a great resource for granting access to students, as sharing the URL link will allow them to access the board and interact with it. The board allows students to upload content (such as images, music, text, hyperlinks, etc.), as well as to comment on the posts of others. You can choose to allow students to post anonymously, or you can disable that. I disabled the name function in the session, to increase their confidence in posting comments, which seemed to work well

I put the students into groups in Zoom Breakout rooms, and asked them to work together to work out the answers to these 10 questions. Students were able to share their thoughts and answers on the Padlet board. Once they had the 10 answers, they could then begin placing them onto the word search outline to see if they were correct. Although this session was carried out live online, through Zoom, it could be done through another channel such as Microsoft Teams; and indeed, it could be completed asynchronously.

We came together as a class to share the answers and complete the word search.

Transferability to different contexts

This session could be utilised in any subject area, with both larger and smaller groups of students. It could enhance the pedagogical tools of law lecturers but is adaptable to any content. The task can be adapted to be individual or group-work and can also be easily led as a face-to-face task, or online.

Links to tools and resources

 Padlet: https://en-gb.padlet.com/


Gannon-Leary, P., & Fontainha, E. (2007). Communities of practice and virtual learning communities : benefits, barriers and success factors. eLearning Papers 5.

Lee, A. (2012). Successful research supervision: Advising students doing research. Taylor & Francis.

Nirmal, L., Muthu, M. S., & Prasad, M. (2020). Use of puzzles as an effective teaching-learning method for dental undergraduates. International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, 13(6), 606–610. https://doi.org/10.5005/jp-journals-10005-1834

Rustamov, K. (2020) The use of didactic-software crosswords in mathematics lessons. European Journal of Research and Reflection in Educational Sciences, 8(3), 87-92.

Image Attributions

Figure 1. Screenshot of Padlet task by Melanie Stockton-Brown is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Author

Dr Melanie Stockton-Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Bournemouth University. Her research specialises in copyright and intellectual property law, and human rights.

She combines traditional research and teaching practices with creative approaches, including film-making and zine making. She has FHEA status.


Using online comic strip generators to enhance the student experience in bioscience education

Dr Shelini Surendran and Geyan Sasha Surendran

What is the idea?

The use of sequential illustrations to tell stories has been present since prehistoric humans painted series of pictures on caves to effectively transmit culture and values to their children (Hadzigeorgiou & Stefanich, 2000). In education, storytelling is a useful approach for learning, allowing kinaesthetic learners to remember the emotional connections associated with the story, reinforcing context-based learning (Hadzigeorgiou & Stefanich, 2000). Comic strips are examples of multimodal texts that combine both text and imagery for storytelling (Wijaya et al., 2021). Comics have the ability to concisely convey immediate visceral meanings that textbooks cannot.

From previous experience, efforts to teach cellular respiration using lecture-style formats have been relatively ineffective on student exam performance. We were inspired to incorporate a comic strip activity, where Bioscience students were expected to describe the process of cellular respiration using online comic strip generators. All students were first taught about the different stages of cellular respiration in a three-hour online lecture. The week after the lecture, the students attended a two-hour active learning class over a video conference, where they were expected to produce a comic strip in teams, explaining cellular respiration. We asked our students to create a comic strip using illustrated scenes and dialogue matching their storyline, using online comic strip generators.

Students were encouraged to use speech bubbles and technical words related to the stages of cellular respiration within their storyline. Finally, students were told to write their comic strips in a creative way, for example the students could portray mitochondrion as a superhero such as ‘Energy-cat’ or any other fun character. The role of the teacher was to facilitate the creation of the stages of respiration. At the end of the activity, students were formatively assessed using a marking criteria (Table 1).

Why this idea?

Comic strips have been used in the humanities and have been largely ignored in science education. For a long time, comic strips had been deemed as only suitable for children, as they do not contain lengthy prose. However, comic strips have the power to convey important scientific messages in a more interesting and comprehensible way for adults, compared to using a textbook or newspaper articles (Koutnikova, 2017). Comic strips are memorable learning aids, as they are usually organised in panels containing a single message (González-Espada, 2003; McCloud 1993).

Comic strip reading is an active process as the reader needs to fill the gaps between the juxtaposed panels, which contain a complex interplay of words and images (Rota & Izquierdo, 2003). Moreover, comic strips encompass elements of humour and fun, which may make it a useful pedagogic tool to engage students and motivate them to read scientific content in a fun way (Garner, 2006). We observed from this activity that using educational comics makes learning fun and memorable. Comic strips are able to integrate cognitive processes associated with the psychomotor domain, due to the incorporation of auditory, kinaesthetic and visual learning methods (Wright & Sherman, 1999). Similar findings have been established that scientific comics enhance student interest and satisfaction in comparison to text-only books (Lin et al., 2015). One of the main advantages of implementing comic strips was that no previous artistic skills were required when using online comic strip generators. There was an obvious observed enhancement of the creative thinking, personal expression and communicative skills of our students (Lazarinis et al., 2015). Classroom management within this activity was minimal and many students were driven by its fun nature and worked outside classroom hours voluntarily.

Student feedback:

By presenting respiration as a story, it made [learning about] cellular respiration less intimidating.’ Student A

‘I used to hate reading text-books saturated with text and barely any pictures. This comic book activity made me realise that I am more eager to read when presented with images and an interesting story line and made me really understand cellular respiration properly.’ – Student B

Comic strips are so fun, and add a twist of humour to the class. It’s always the funniest moments and fun activities in life I remember, as opposed to the dull moments.’ – Student C

‘We enjoyed thinking about the process in a more creative way and thought that it was more interactive than a lecture. As we had creative freedom we could have a lot more fun with the concepts involved and found that it made us remember the topic a lot more. We also found that the experience felt a lot more relaxed than the usually assigned university work.’ – Student D

How can others implement this idea?

  1. Students can create a comic strip for revising a subject area they have been taught in class. Alternatively, a comic strip can be created as a flipped learning method (Students view online lectures prior to the classroom activity, then spend time in class engaging in active learning).
  2. Students can create a narrative storyline containing illustrations, individually or in small groups. You may choose to divide the class into small groups if the topic area is large. Using comic strips as a group activity, allows some students to have different team roles e.g. Idea generation, story writing and graphic designing. Students may also be given a list of essential keywords relating to their chosen topic as guidance.
  3. Creating a comic strip is no different to planning a story. Students should plan their comic strip, so it contains a beginning, middle and end. Students should think about the types of characters and scenes they plan to use, to portray what happened in the story. It’s important that the comic strip has a powerful ending and is packed with some action. It is recommended that students contain at least 20 panels within their comic strip, but this may vary depending on the complexity of the topic they plan to write about.
  4. Students can be recommended to use comic strip generators such as ‘Canva’ or ‘Pixton’. Students can start with a blank page or use pre-existing templates provided by the generator. Most comic strip generators have different themes (e.g. school, beach, city) and allow for customizable layouts (Number and type of comic strip panels). When it comes to designing, students can experiment with the different features available. Online comic strip generators often allow the addition of dialogue boxes, speech bubbles, custom artwork, colour schemes, typefaces, icons & stickers, customisable characters and illustrations. Tools like Canva allow for real time collaborative work, where multiple students can work on the same document at the same time online or in the classroom.
  5. Students’ comic strips must contain illustrations containing dialogue, they may use speech bubbles or dialogue boxes provided in the comic strips. The size of the font can indicate whether characters are shouting or whispering, for example capitalised text indicates that a character is shouting. It is important that students double check their spelling and grammar.
  6. Students must be as creative as possible and write their story in a comic-strip way. They could describe a scenario including a superhero, a teacher, or any fun character they can think of (See figure 1 as an example).
Example of a comic strip created by a student using Canva
Figure 1. Example of a comic strip created by a student using Canva

Transferability to different contexts

This comic strip activity can be adapted for any subject discipline. Creation of comic strips can be helpful for icebreaker activities, revision and consolidating knowledge. We would suggest readers to:

· Have a clear marking scheme on what you’re expecting from the comic strip. If you want to use this as a marked assignment, be clear on how many marks are awarded for the following: Theme, illustrated scenes, character & dialogue, spelling, grammar & punctuation; and creativity. (Table 1).

Practise making your own comic strips, so you can help students if needed.

Table 1.





All panels relate to the theme of Cellular respiration.


Illustrated scenes

Each panel of the comic strip contains appropriate landscape, characters/ props and detailed illustrations that help strengthen understanding of the scene.

The comic strip is clear and easy to understand.


Character & Dialogue

The main characters of the comic strip are clear to the reader, and their dialogue helps with setting the scene.

The comic strip may include speech bubbles or labels, containing all the necessary vocabulary words related to cellular respiration.


Spelling, grammar & punctuation

Spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct throughout.



The comic strip doesn’t simply regurgitate dry facts. Students exhibit creativity, and may include fun or humour or a novel way of explaining concepts within their pictures and captions.




Links to tools and resources

Useful resources for comic strip generation:

Useful website links to learn more about online comic strip generators:


Garner, R. L. (2006). Humor in pedagogy: How ha-ha can lead to aha!. College Teaching, 54(1), 177-180. https://doi.org/10.3200/CTCH.54.1.177-180

Gonzalez-Espada, W. J. (2003). Integrating physical science and the graphic arts with scientifically accurate comic strips: Rationale, description, and implementation. Revista Electrónica de Enseñanza de las Ciencias, 2(1), 58-66.

Hadzigeorgiou, Y., & Stefanich, G. (2000). Imagination in science education. Contemporary Education, 71(4), 23.

Koutníková, M. (2017). The application of comics in science education. Acta Educationis Generalis, 7(3), 88-98. https://doi.org/10.1515/atd-2017-0026

Lazarinis, F., Mazaraki, A., Verykios, V. S., & Panagiotakopoulos, C. (2015, July). E-comics in teaching: Evaluating and using comic strip creator tools for educational purposes. 10th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE) (pp. 305-309). IEEE.

Lin, S. F., Lin, H. S., Lee, L., & Yore, L. D. (2015). Are science comics a good medium for science communication? The case for public learning of nanotechnology. International Journal of Science Education (Part B), 5(3), 276-294. https://doi.org/10.1080/21548455.2014.941040

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. Kitchen Sink Press.

Rota, G., & Izquierdo, J. (2003). “Comics” as a tool for teaching biotechnology in primary schools. Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, 6(2), 85-89. https://doi.org/10.2225/vol6-issue2-fulltext-10

Wijaya, E. A., Suwastini, N. K. A., Adnyani, N. L. P. S., & Adnyani, K. E. K. (2021). Comic strips for language teaching: The benefits and challenges according to recent research. ETERNAL (English, Teaching, Learning, and Research Journal), 7(1), 230-248. https://doi.org/10.24252/Eternal.V71.2021.A16

Wright, G., & Sherman, R. (1999). Let’s create a comic strip. Reading Improvement, 36(2), 66.

Image Attribution

Figure 1. Example of a comic strip created by a student using Canva by Daria Danielewicz and Emil Nikadon is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Authors

Dr Shelini Surendran is a teaching fellow in Biosciences at the University of Surrey with a focus on playful learning and flipped learning. She has taught in primary schools, colleges, and Universities globally. She has a PhD in Nutrigenetics and a PGCE.

Geyan Surendran has a background in physiology and the pharmaceutical sciences. Geyan currently leads the research for the non-alcoholic ‘functional’ beverage company Beyond Alcohol in the UK and US. His current research focuses on ethnobotany and the use of physiologically active plants in commercial beverages. Previously, Geyan spent 5 years working in topical and transdermal pharmaceutical research, and has spent over 12 years as a distiller and non-alcoholic drinks formulator.


Digital storytelling: encouraging active learning through collaborative team projects

Richard Beggs

Example storyboard showing three tiles: 1. Story title; 2. Photo-Ken Burns; 3. Video file

What is the idea?

Storytelling isn’t solely the domain of Hollywood blockbusters, it is something we all do daily and is central to human communication (University of Strathclyde, 2017), whether it is sharing our experiences with colleagues, family and friends or trying to make sense of things that have happened to us. As educators we are often trying to make our students more reflective/reflexive, to learn from their experiences and to do things differently the next time. Building digital capabilities of our students through assessments is also something we are encouraged to do, however assessment load is often a barrier to adoption. This chapter explores how digital storytelling can not only enhance digital capabilities and encourage reflective practice of students, but through team projects provide an efficient and effective assessment strategy as well as facilitating active learning. Digital storytelling in this instance is based on the established process developed by the Center for Digital Storytelling (Lambert, 2022) and is a 2-3 minute video file (example in Resources Padlet) that brings together photographs, text and a voice narration to explain a concept or to reflect on experiences.

How could others implement this idea?

Digital storytelling as an assessment method is easier than you would first think, students never cease to amaze and have fully embraced this method of assessment.

‘It was a really enjoyable module filled with a creative assessment element making it entertaining and interesting to create our digital story. Ability to get out our creative side.’ 2020-21 Undergraduate business student.

There are a lot of free software and resources available to get you started (links in the resources section), below is a list of the basic requirements of digital storytelling:

  • Script– short 250 words (template in the resources section).
  • Storyboard – simple text in boxes suffice (template in the resources section).
  • Recording audio – most mobile phones come with a memo recorder.
  • Editing audio – Audacity, a free and easy to use audio editor.
  • Sourcing photographs – Creative Commons Search.
  • Digital story production – Pulling it all together in a video file. Mac users – iMove, Windows users – Photo App, both are free apps and use a timeline for editing with features for added text. An alternative is Adobe Express (formerly Spark) Video, but this has a slightly different workflow, and you record the audio on each slide. Some students have used PowerPoint and a screen capture tool such as Panopto to create a basic digital story.
  • Acknowledgement – Use the end credits to acknowledge any images that have been sourced under the Creative Commons license.

Delivery guide (3-hour active learning session)

  1. Start off by introducing your students to the process of storytelling, get them to work in pairs using an object in their pocket or bag and ask them to tell a short 2-minute story to one another about the object.
  2.  Then, cover some of the theory within your context. Talk about how storytelling fits into the module/course and the assessment.
  3.  As the human voice is key to the digital storytelling process (Lambert, 2010) it is a good time to get them to work in pairs telling stories. This time ask them to pick a photo from a Creative Commons search or print outs that triggers a 2-minute story from their past and tell it to one another in pairs.
  4.  Show some examples of what a digital story is, get them to critique them, what worked, what didn’t work etc.
  5. Now that they are all warmed up and in a chatty mood, it is time to identify the story they wish to tell. Putting them in their teams of around 5 or 6 students works well. Ask them to explore options using the script template below that is aligned to the learning outcomes. This part of the session can be 30 mins to an hour and it is an iterative process and should produce a draft script. The University of Strathclyde has a wonderful resource around finding stories.
  6. Depending on your timetable, you can break here or continue into introducing them to storyboarding. This is a basic form of storyboarding where they look at each line in the script they have written and explore what appears on the screen when that line is spoken. Using this methodology is an established process developed and refined by the Centre for Digital Storytelling and is used in Jisc’s Digital Storytelling workshops (Thomson, 2020).
  7. The final piece of the puzzle is showing your students how to acknowledge images curated from a Creative Commons Search. Now it’s time for them to allocate team roles and to move onto the assessment.


Talk with your students, explain the benefits of teamwork such as active, experiential, and authentic learning (Davies, 2009). Discuss that employers are looking for team working skills in graduates (Magill, 2019) and that this module/course/session will enhance their digital capabilities and video production skills. Use a rubric to speed up the marking process and to let students see what good storytelling looks like. Rubrics also ensure consistency if there is more than one marker. Set clear guidance through an assessment brief and take time to go through this and the rubric with your students. There are clear roles within each team, such as: scriptwriting, storyboard production, audio recording and editing, sourcing imagery, video production and editing, creative commons acknowledgement. Let them assign the roles to match their skill sets. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, if there are online resources you can point your students to then do so, this will free you up to support them through tutorials and seminars. Offer choice of technology with free online tutorials readily available, students will often be aware of different and emerging technologies that they can use (Example learning outcomes and rubric are in the resources section).

Transferability to different contexts

Digital storytelling can work in any discipline or indeed at any level. It has been used with students at Ulster University in individual and team assessments in the Business, Communications and Computing Schools and in higher education practice programmes. It has also been used for civic outreach and for students with learning disabilities to hear the student voice. Other examples of use are in local government with Northern Ireland Assembly, Northern Ireland Fire Brigade, Police Service of Northern Ireland and with Northern Ireland Health and Social Care in partnership with Movember, Prostate UK and TruNorth. I would like to thank Chris Thomson from Jisc, who inspired me to embrace digital storytelling at a Jisc ConnectMore event back in 2015.

Links to tools and resources

View resources on Padlet: https://padlet.com/rtg_beggs/vwuuc2sv1gvjumam

  • Script and Storyboard Template
  • Example Digital Stories
  • Example Learning Outcomes and Rubric
  • Links to free software


Davies, W.M. (2009). Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions. Higher Education 58, 563–584. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-009-9216-y

Lambert, J. (2010). Digital storytelling cookbook. Digital Diner Press. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55368c08e4b0d419e1c011f7/t/5900fb1637c5814c17f8258c/1493236524897/cookbook_full.pdf

Lambert, J. (2022). StoryCenter: Listen Deeply Tell Stories. Center for Digital Storytelling. https://www.storycenter.org/

Magill, M. (2019). NI Skills Barometer 2019. Department for the Economy. https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-skills-barometer-2019-update

Thomson, C. (2020, September 22). Add digital storytelling to your online learning toolkit. Jisc. http://inspiringlearning.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2020/09/digital-storytelling-online-learning/

University of Strathclyde. (2017). Your research is a story…so why not learn how to tell it? https://ewds.strath.ac.uk/storytelling/Home.aspx

Image Attribution

Figure 1. Example storyboard by Richard Beggs is used under CC-BY 2.0 Licence

About the Author

Richard works in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP) and teaches on Ulster University’s First Steps to Teaching and their Masters of Education (HE). He is the lead for the Learning Landscapes project in which active learning is at its core. He has worked in HE for 15 years and prior to joining CHERP worked in the University’s Digital Learning department for 11 years. Richard is the chair of the ALT Active Learning Special Interest Group.


A picture is worth a thousand words

Dr Alice Cherestes and Dr Leslie Schneider

What is the idea?

Visual Classrooms, a Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning platform was used alongside carefully designed course-based activities to support active learning and peer-feedback in a university Organic Chemistry course. STEM disciplines such as Organic Chemistry benefit tremendously from strategies that make ‘thinking visible’. The platform’s interactive collaboration features make it easy for students to engage with each other and create visual artifacts that make their thinking visible and enable peer feedback. This empowers students to independently assess their own and others’ progress, maximising learning and engagement. As well, instructors can easily identify students’ misconceptions. In an end-of-term survey, students confirmed that Visual Classrooms made it easier for them to actively demonstrate their understanding of course content.

Why this idea?

This idea represents our initial effort to build metacognitive skills in a university level Organic Chemistry class. Many students study only to achieve a grade without actually thinking about their learning, fear of failure being their main motivator. Our main goal is to use a collaborative learning environment called Visual Classrooms along with peer feedback activities to teach students metacognitive skills such as how to reflect on their thinking and build trust in each other’s explanation without always having to rely on the expert opinion. Peer feedback activities and rubrics provided students the tools and scaffolding needed to make reflective judgements and develop strategies to focus on, improve, or review areas they needed to work on. In addition, the platform created a safe space for sharing learning, a space where students felt they were in charge of their learning while also building a sense of community and belonging.

This approach reflects the theoretical perspectives of active learning (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) and was guided by principles from Computer-Supported-Collaborative-Learning (CSCL). Active learning is an instructional method that actively engages students with the course material and each other through discussions, problem solving, case studies, and other methods. Formative peer assessment is a social endeavour and promotes the development of lifelong skills – critical thinking, communication, and collaboration (Strijbos & Wichmann, 2018; Topping, 1998). According to Hattie (2015, p. 79); ‘when teachers see teaching and learning through the eyes of their students, and when students become their own teachers then outcomes and engagement are maximised.’ CSCL complements this view with enhanced tools for managing learning and activities that both increase student content knowledge and foster work-life skills, such as collaborative problem-solving with shared understanding and decision-making (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994). Collaborative learning fosters flexibility whereby learners gain insight into their own thinking processes (Strijbos et al., 2004). As well, group interaction exposes students to different views giving learners the chance to examine dense material from multiple perspectives.

As well, Visual Classrooms’ drawing tools make it easy for students to produce the kind of visual representations that are critical in a variety of disciplines. Visual representations (photos, drawings, etc) play an especially important role in all STEM disciplines. According to Wu and Shah (2004), chemistry is a visual science and visualisations play a major role in communicating and understanding its concepts and processes. In biology models can describe or simplify complex phenomena and facilitate the communication of ideas and concepts (Svoboda & Passmore, 2013).


Assignment layout in Visual Classrooms
Figure 1. Assignment layout in Visual Classrooms


“Prompt and New Idea” in Visual Classrooms with student responses and feedback shown below
Figure 2. ‘Prompt and New Idea’ in Visual Classrooms with student responses and feedback shown below

How could others implement this idea?

Peer feedback is an effective pedagogical strategy to teach students the metacognitive skills of critical thinking, giving and receiving feedback, and taking responsibility for their own learning. It can be implemented by instructors teaching any discipline. The key is creating feedback rubrics to support students as they construct their own useful formative feedback and develop a sense about what ‘good work’ looks like. The following workflow diagram outlines step-by-step instructions on how to implement:


Pedagogical flow of Visual Classrooms assignments: Assign; Structure/review;Feedback
Figure 3. Pedagogical flow of Visual Classrooms assignments

In our case, students were given detailed instructions/rubrics to guide them in how to provide feedback. It focused on explaining their reasoning. In addition to solving the problems, students were asked to provide feedback to peers. Two types of feedback were requested: feedback in which they had to choose a correct answer and explain why it was correct and feedback in which they chose an incorrect answer and also explained why it was incorrect. In case an incorrect post was not found available, students were asked to explain what type of modifications they would add to the answer/post to make it incorrect. Also students were encouraged to provide not only written feedback but also draw structures – which is a critical part of learning organic chemistry. Finally, moderators were utilised to review the feedback and flag issues that required instructor attention.

This approach can be used without technology but it is certainly easier and more effective to provide timely feedback as a formative assessment tool for both students and instructors.


Example “Assignment Question” with types of feedback differentiated using colour boxes
Figure 4. Example ‘Assignment Question’ with types of feedback differentiated using colour boxes


Students use both correct and constructive feedback
Figure 5. Students use both correct and constructive feedback


Instructor uses feedback to directly and visually point out student error
Figure 6. Instructor uses feedback to directly and visually point out student error

Transferability to different contexts

This approach is transferable to any content area with Visual Classrooms or without for both online and face-to-face instruction. It is especially beneficial for online learning where finding ways to help students remain engaged with both the content and each other becomes even more critical.

Links to tools and resources


Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, The George Washington University.

Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of visible learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79-91. https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000021

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1994). Computer support for knowledge-building communities. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265-283. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327809jls0303_3

Strijbos, J. W., & Wichmann, A. (2018). Promoting learning by leveraging the collaborative nature of formative peer assessment with instructional scaffolds. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 33(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-017-0353-x

Strijbos, J. W., Kirschner, P. A., & Martens, R. L. (2004). What we know about CSCL. In J. W. Strijbos, P. A. Kirschner & R. L. Martens (Eds.), What we know about CSCL (pp. 245-259). Springer. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/1-4020-7921-4_10

Svoboda, J., & Passmore, C. (2013). The strategies of modeling in biology education. Science & Education, 22(1), 119-142. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-011-9425-5

Topping, K. (1998). Peer assessment between students in colleges and universities. Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249-276. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543068003249

Wu, H. K., & Shah, P. (2004). Exploring visuospatial thinking in chemistry learning. Science Education, 88(3), 465-492. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.10126

Image Attributions

Figure 1. Screenshot – Assignment layout in Visual Classrooms by Alice Cherestes and Leslie Schneider is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 2. Screenshot – ‘Prompt and New Idea’ in Visual Classrooms with student responses and feedback shown below by Alice Cherestes and Leslie Schneider is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 3. Screenshot – Pedagogical flow of Visual Classrooms assignments by Alice Cherestes and Leslie Schneider is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 4. Screenshot – Example ‘Assignment Question’ with types of feedback differentiated using colour boxes by Alice Cherestes and Leslie Schneider is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 5. Screenshot – Students use both correct and constructive feedback by Alice Cherestes and Leslie Schneider is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 6. Screenshot – Instructor uses feedback to directly and visually point out student error by Alice Cherestes and Leslie Schneider is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Authors

Dr. Alice Cherestes is an award-winning Senior Faculty Lecturer at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Her passion for teaching led her to develop new active learning strategies to improve student learning.  Alice is a graduate of the NIST Scientific Teaching short course and a speaker in the NIST Happy Hour.

Dr. Leslie Schneider holds a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University and is a recognized expert on computer-supported collaboration and user-centered design and has consulted for 20 years on using the Internet to support learning and collaboration. She is a co-founder of Visual Classrooms and its Chief Academic Officer.


Scenario based learning: branching forms

Scott Farrow

What is the idea?

Scenario-based learning (SBL) provides a learning environment where learners can confront authentic challenges similar to those they will experience as professionals’ post-graduation. SBL provides realistic feedback as they progress through their learning journey. Using a digital form which provides a scenario that then has the ability to branch to another question or scenario based on the user input allows us to create digital, asynchronous scenarios which provide many benefits to learners and tutors. Relating learning in an authentic way to our own contexts provides us with a deeper learning experience (Wang et al., 2018) and also helps motivate learners to feel more connected to the content (Arnold, 2019; Farrow, 2019).

Why this idea?

Branching scenarios are a similar concept to ‘choose your own adventure’ books. In branching scenarios, the narrative unfolds as the user makes a choice. They allow learners to practice real-life situations without the pressure of work-based learning, or relying on others to role play these situations. Being digital and asynchronous, they also provide the learner with the opportunity to learn on the job skills at their own pace, in a comfortable environment or revisit content (Beldarrain, 2006).

Real-life or on the job situations may be hard to come by, resource heavy or not suitable for placing students within work settings for some disciplines. Using scenario-based learning provides a safe space for instilling relevant behaviours in students.

Although planning the scenarios may be time consuming to start with, once planned they are really simple to upkeep, add or change questions and intervention points and roll-out to numerous students across different cohorts.

As a formative assessment tool, the forms give you valuable information on how students are thinking about a specific topic or subject and this allows you to revisit or adapt your teaching if required. Viewing the results page gives you the opportunity to see learner analytics on an individual level to see which concepts they are understanding, but also as a whole cohort or student group.

How could others implement this idea?

When creating these scenarios for your own learners, think of situations which are realistic and relatable as these will provide the more engaging content. They work best with scenarios where there is an end goal but different ways to achieve the goal or not necessarily a perfect answer.

Once you have a subject and situation in mind, remember that the scenario relies heavily on the narrative which will take time to create. It is helpful to storyboard the narrative on paper – this will allow you to see the flow of the scenario as a whole, but also where you can input questions or require decisions from your learners.

Try to keep the scenarios relatively simple. Don’t overload your students with lots of decisions and a lengthy narrative as you risk missing the point or behaviours you’re trying to instil.

Steps for creating branching in Microsoft Forms:

  1. Log in to Microsoft Forms and create a new Form
  2. Click on ‘add new’ and choose a ‘choice’ question type
  3. Input the question and the number of options you are giving to the learners
  4. Before adding the branching, we need to add all of the questions and options, so repeat steps 2-3 for these (this is where a storyboard of the scenario helps. It is also helpful to use the ‘sections’ within forms to keep groups of questions together)
  5. Once done inputting the questions and options, click the three dots on the bottom right of the first question and select ‘add branching’
  6. On this page for each option provided select the question you’d like that option to jump to. Repeat for each question.

It is helpful to learners if the question they jump to provides a little feedback or recap of the question they get to – this may be to explain why their decision has led to a more or less favourable path.

Although this example has been demonstrated within Microsoft Forms, you can also replicate this in Google Forms (see resource links below). Additionally, if you have access to content development software, you can create scenario-based learning by formatting buttons within the content to jump to different sections of the learning, although this may be more time consuming.

Transferability to different contexts

Branching scenarios can be created to work in any given discipline as it is the narrative that provides the context and relatability to the subject. They work specifically well in subject such as health or customer services related disciplines where we’re looking to instil certain behaviours, rather than teaching a specific skill or imparting knowledge. They also work best with scenarios where there isn’t specifically a correct or incorrect answer, but where different options selected mean situations play out in different ways and provide different consequences, such as taking extra time or using more resources to arrive at the same solution.

Branching forms can also be used away from scenarios to create personalised learning (McCusker, 2019). For example, subject review quizzes or formative assessments can be created using these tools, but where those who answer questions incorrectly can be given additional questions or directed down a different learning path to help them further understand concepts or those who answer all questions well can be stretched and challenged with additional materials or reading.

Links to tools and resources


Arnold, L. (2019). Authentic Assessment. https://lydiaarnold.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/authentic-assessment-1.pdf

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139-153. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587910600789498

Farrow, S. (2019). Authentic Assessment. Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool. https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/centre-for-innovation-in-education/resources/all-resources/authentic-assessment.html

McCusker, S. (2019, October 22). Personalising Learning with Branching Google Forms. edTechTeacher. https://edtechteacher.org/personalized-learning-google-forms-branching-feature/

Wang, M., Kirschner, P. A., Spector, J. M., & Ge, X. (2018). Computer-based learning environments for deeper learning in problem-solving contexts. Computers in Human Behavior, 87, 403-405. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.06.026

About the Author

Scott Farrow provides strategic leadership in the development and delivery of support for the use of digital learning and educational technologies by staff and students. He is also a committee convenor or the North West England regional ALT Special Interest Group and Senior Fellow HEA. He has worked in higher education in a variety of digital learning related roles for around ten years with specific interest in distance learning, video and media use within education and accessibility.


The ‘Reflective Elevator Pitch’

Dr Samuel Saunders

What is the idea?

A ‘Reflective Elevator Pitch’ is a short activity designed to act as either a formative or summative assessment, which requires students to consolidate a piece of work they have already completed and reformat it into a short, five-minute orally-delivered ‘pitch’ that summarises the work and identifies its key arguments, strengths, and discussion points. Rather than the traditional ‘elevator pitch’ that asks participants to think ahead to a new project that has potential but which has not yet been completed, a reflective elevator pitch asks participants to think about something they have already done and to reformat it into a new, easily digested dimension. This improves students’ understanding of the content, demonstrates (and enhances) their ability to reconceptualise it, and improves their capacity to reformat and deliver tailored material to specific audiences.

Why this idea?

A particularly contentious issue in assessment in UK higher education, despite extensive study in scholarly literature, is the construction and use of feedback (Winstone & Carless, 2019, p. xii). Both staff and students often find this difficult: on one hand, staff frequently feel frustrated with the fact that they are putting a great deal of time, effort and energy into something that students often simply dismiss, while on the other, students often contend that the feedback they receive on their hard-completed work is unhelpful, generic and irrelevant to future work (Henderson et al., 2019, p. 1237). Even within scholarly literature, there remains substantial disagreement regarding what actually constitutes ‘best practice’ in the feedback process; some feel that we should focus on the quality of feedback provided, others feel that we should focus on those involved in the process itself (namely staff and students), and still others feel that we should focus on the attributes that the feedback itself is designed to develop in the students (Henderson et al., 2019, p. 1237-1238).

However, since the early 2010s, discourse in academic literature has, at least, helpfully shifted towards a generally-accepted consensus that ‘feedback’ is an active process that can be ‘actioned’, rather than passively ‘received’, by students (Dawson et al, 2018, pp. 25-26). Both students and staff must therefore consciously engage with the feedback process if it is to truly make a positive difference: staff must provide students with feedback that both reflects on the completed work and links into a subsequent opportunity for its active re-use, so that students can demonstrate mastery of a concept, technique or idea post-feedback. Students, meanwhile, must engage with the feedback and actually account for it in their later work. A student-centred approach to feedback, such as that purported by David Carless and David Boud in 2018 in a study that explored students’ feedback literacy, is correct: for feedback to make a positive difference to students’ attainment, they must first understand and acknowledge the feedback they have received (Carless & Boud, 2018).

The largest issue even with student-centred feedback, however, remains the disconnection between staff and students throughout the feedback process. Staff often mark work and provide feedback to students in written comments, which students then collect (either physically or digitally) to absorb at their leisure. It is infrequent, bordering on rare, that staff and students will come face-to-face to discuss completed work, in a discursive forum that works through the comments or piece of work and allows understanding between the two parties to flow freely.

The ‘reflective elevator pitch’ is designed to alleviate this issue, by providing a forum for students to self-reflect on their work, allowing students to actively use their feedback in both constructing their pitch and delivering it, and giving students an opportunity to demonstrate exactly how they have taken their feedback into account to their tutors. It is, in essence, a route into the feedback/feedforward ‘process’ for students, encouraging them (or, if used as a mandatory assessment, forcing them) to reflect on their completed work and reconceptualise it using their feedback in an active process.

How could others implement this idea?

The ‘reflective elevator pitch’ is a relatively easy exercise to set up:

Identify a module, course or discipline where students already complete a longer piece of work that has a number of different dimensions or questions that need to be answered. This could be, for example, an extended essay, a research project, or other long-form assignment that has a substantial weighting attached to it.

Place a ‘reflective elevator pitch’ activity onto the same course after the long-form assignment has already been completed. This can take the form of either a formative activity that takes place in lieu of a formal class, or a summative second assignment with a necessarily-lighter weighting (say, 30% vs. 70% for the original piece of work). The latter option of a summative assignment is more likely to encourage students’ participation, but may have more administrative hurdles to overcome.

Ensure that the pitch is placed a sufficient distance from the first assignment: if it is placed too soon after it, students will not have had the time to properly engage with the feedback and rework the assignment into the pitch. Conversely, if it is placed too far, students may lose focus on the piece of work they are revisiting as they will simply have moved on.

Set up 10-minute appointments for students to attend, organised however you wish (alphabetically works well). 10-minute slots are optimal to allow for set-up and take-down time, particularly if students have presentations to share. See students one at a time, invite them to deliver their pitch, note the strengths and weaknesses on a pre-designed form, thank the student, and dismiss them.

It is good practice to have two members of staff on the ‘panel’ for the pitch: the module tutor (naturally), and an ‘external’ member of staff with whom the students are unfamiliar. This could take the form of the second marker for the exam, or any member of staff with sufficient distance from the course. This is to ensure that students will focus on reworking their ideas into a format that a ‘lay-person’ can understand.

Follow the pitch up with a mark/comments or other feedback format as you see fit. Do remember that this exercise is designed to constitute engagement with/active consolidation of feedback itself, and thus feedback at this stage can, and perhaps should, be necessarily limited.

Transferability to different contexts

The assessment method is surprisingly relevant to most disciplinary contexts, as almost every discipline will include at least one longer piece of work where students have been required to think conceptually, answer complex questions and/or perform a piece of primary research – even if this is a dissertation at the final stage of a course. Perhaps the most helpful aspect of this exercise is that it is discipline-less, designed to allow students of any subject a chance to rethink something that they have completed and ‘pitch’ it to their examiner(s) in a digestible, understandable format.

However, there are also excellent uses for this exercise outside of teaching at HE – it can also be used for CPD exercises and staff development activities, as a research-sharing exercise at conferences or symposia (should staff be organising or delivering material in this forum), as a recruitment exercise at assessment centres or interviews, as a progress-sharing activity for doctoral students or research-masters students, or even as a simple personal development exercise on an individual level. Indeed, when used introspectively in a personal context, rewriting a piece of work into a five-minute pitch can help break through mental barriers, and ensure that your material is easily-understood, concise and has an understandable argument.


Carless, D., & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315-1325. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2018). What makes for effective feedback: Staff and student perspectives. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 25-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1467877

Henderson, M., Ryan, T., & Phillips, M. (2019). The challenges of feedback in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(8), 1237-1252. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1599815

Winstone, N., & Carless, D. (2019). Designing effective feedback processes in higher education: A learning-focused approach. Routledge. 

About the Author

Dr Samuel Saunders is Teaching and Learning Coach at University Centre Reaseheath, part of the University of Chester. His education research interests concern the spatial psychologies of the classroom, tensions between physical and digital classrooms, and staff development programmes in HE teaching and learning. Sam also researches nineteenth-century literature, holds a PhD in English (LJMU, 2018), and is author of The Nineteenth Century Periodical Press and the Development of Detective Fiction (2021).


Using Active Engagement Assessments (AEA) for active learning

Patricia Perlman-Dee


Photo of coloured counting bricks

What is the idea?

Traditional assessment for learning, provides information about student achievement at a certain point in time, but often has little effect on learning. However, assessment as learning develops and supports students’ metacognitive skills, so thinking about thinking is crucial in helping students become lifelong learners (Dann, 2014). Therefore, creating assessments using ‘active engagement assessments’ (AEA) creates an active and engaged learning process that caters much more for diversity amongst different student’s learning styles. This could be put in contrast to arguments that in-class participation needs to be carefully considered for different learning styles (Crosthwaite et al., 2015).

By making ongoing smaller exercises, activities, projects and role-plays to be summative assessments instead of formative assessment, students’ level of engagement and learning process is much more active learning.

Why this idea?

In the teaching environment where words like ‘flipped classroom’, ‘hybrid teaching’ and ‘lifelong skills’ are constantly buzzing, many educators find themselves with common problems;

  • to get the students to engage with the set material, both pre-read and ongoing;
  • to get students to prepare for workshops and seminars; and
  • the cramming and panic studying before the final exam.

These are not new problems, but they certainly have become more noticeable and created a larger impact on student learning over time.

The usage of AEA as summative assessment will make the majority of students engage with the material and therefore undertake an active form of learning. Students do not hesitate to engage because by doing the set task, this will contribute to their final grade. There is a reward for engaging with the material and to complete the set exercises. We have found that the reward approach works a lot better than a ‘penalty’. Students do not seem to be too bothered about being ‘found out’ of not having done a set exercise as there is no immediate implication of this behaviour and at this stage – they still think they can ‘cram’ for the exam.

A number of surveys have been done by the author on students’ perception of their own learning, having completed AEA on specific courses. For example; A number of quizzes were compulsory on a specific course. Over 71% (20/28) of the students stated they would have been less likely to do the quiz if it didn’t impact their overall grade. What was even more telling was the fact that 95% of the students felt that making the quizzes part of their grade was useful for their overall learning, implying engagement fosters active learning.

How could others implement this idea?

The author has used many types of summative engagement exercises in her courses. The academic literature (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004) discusses 11 conditions under which assessments support learning, where two are particularly relevant; Condition 2: ‘These tasks are engaged with by students, orienting them to allocate appropriate amounts of time and effort to the most important aspects of the course’ (p. 14) as well as Condition 3: ‘Tackling the assessed task engages students in productive learning activity of an appropriate kind’ (p. 14).

Therefore, the initial starting point to implement summative AEA is to make sure part of the overall grade is allocated to the active engagement assessment exercises. You may need to go through internal and external approval for this so make sure you factor in this time. Also be prepared to answer very specific questions on why you think it is appropriate to allocate marks for AEA as some institutions do find that it’s a bit of a ‘free ride’ without actually having had any experience from the benefits this can generate.

Depending on how much flexibility (and time) you have as an educator, I would suggest allocating between 10-25% of the overall course grade to the engagement assessment.

The next step is to decide what type of AEA you think would be appropriate for your course or program. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of the AEA: assessment as learning. A main tip is to try to make sure the AEA is manageable for the educator/lecturer to handle.

The step that often takes the longest is the ‘pre-set up’. This is where you think and act on your AEA; how you will structure them, how do you arrange for the marking, how do you set them up in the VLE to make sure they are counted towards the grade, how do you minimise the possibility for human error (ie for example transfer points, signatures etc.) when calculating the grades. You are likely to end up with quite a few ‘columns’ of grades, so it is important to get the set up right.

Looking at quizzes in particular, there are a few things to consider.

  • Will the actual score on the quiz matter? From surveys done by the author, she found that 100% of the students agreed to the statement: ‘because the actual score on the quiz was of less importance, they used the quizzes to learn and understand to some extent where they needed to study more’.
  • How many times will you allow the students to take the quizzes? Initially, the author had set up for students to take the quizzes only once before ‘submission date’. However, at every occasion that quizzes have been used as AEA, the educator/course leader has been asked if they could ‘re-open’ the quizzes for further practice. Statistics on course evaluations shows that more than 50% of the students had retaken the quizzes at least once, others twice
  • Will you require students to have completed certain reading/preparation before attempting the quizzes? This depends on how you would like to use the quizzes and what you have decided on the above. The author’s study shows that 10% of the students that attempted the quizzes had not looked before, 60% has looked over the material and 25% had studied extensively

In the below tables you will find two examples of types of AEA with different weightings allocated (25% and 15%) as a proportion of the overall course mark. The examples below have also suggested some possible AEA to include and their allocated mark.



Transferability to different contexts

AEAs could be used in any education setting and for any subject. Each subject will have certain AEAs that will be more appropriate. However, using quizzes as AEA is highly applicable in all settings and can very easily be adapted. Workshop or seminar attendance is also highly transferable for any course that has synchronous learning. Active engagement exercises are all about breaking tasks down into smaller chunks and building up the learning. This supports the author’s argument about engagement fosters active learning. This is good pedagogical practice and with using summative assessment, the engagement and learning is aligned with condition 3; from Gibbs and Simpson (2004): ‘Tackling the assessed task engages students in productive learning activity of an appropriate kind’ (p. 14).

Links to tools and resources

The below links gives examples and show where to find some useful resources to get started with AEA.


Crosthwaite, P. R., Bailey, D. R., & Meeker, A. (2015). Assessing in-class participation for EFL: Considerations of effectiveness and fairness for different learning styles. Language Testing in Asia, 5(1), 9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40468-015-0017-1

Dann, R. (2014). Assessment as learning: Blurring the boundaries of assessment and learning for theory, policy and practice. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 21(2), 149–166. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2014.898128

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Does your assessment support your students’ learning. Journal of Teaching and learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-30.

Image Attribution

11963 coloured wooden blocks – this image by gratuit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

About the Author

Patricia Perlman-Dee is Senior Lecturer in Finance, Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

She has extensive experience working in large financial corporations: Citigroup, JPMorgan, Nomura and Barclays in Manchester, London and New York.

Patricia has created and teaches a range of courses across UG, PG, MBA and ExecEd.

In 2021, 2020 and 2019, Patricia was awarded the Faculty of Humanities AMBS Outstanding Teaching award.


Active Learning and the use of discussion forums as summative assessment for online teaching

Dr Marta Vianya-Estopa

What is the idea?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced academics involved in clinical courses to quickly re-evaluate the content of face-to-face sessions. Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, materials that can be learnt independently by learners should be explored outside of face-to-face sessions. This shift in learning has resulted in many benefits that would continue to be used for online teaching. I will explore how properly designed online discussion forums can offer advantages and can be used to contribute to summative components of clinical modules. For example, students self-learning and researching specific questions can help others in the same class. I will also highlight what needs to be considered when setting up and managing discussion forums online.

Why this idea?

This idea focuses on the use of online discussion forums to increase active learning in an optics base module. Clinical skills can be embedded in a variety of ways, depending on whether learning can occur independently by students or in collaboration with others. Bloxham and Boyd (2007) suggested that assessment activity in higher education is the main learning activity. In other words, students engage with materials when faced with assessment tasks. Those involved in the design, delivery and assessment of clinical courses might need to consider the value that non-traditional assessment tasks such as remote online discussion forums offer to their courses. Asynchronous online discussion forums promote reflection of learning and connect students (Benbunan-Fich & Hiltz, 1999) making them ideal to scaffold learning of clinical skills. In addition, they can also offer the following benefits:

  • Promotes the development of written communication skills.
  • Gives choice as part of the summative assignment. This in turn might improve students’ learning and promote fair assessment of a diverse student population (Bloxham & Boyd, 2007)
  • Allows the use of visual resources (videos, websites) for topics that students may find particularly uninteresting.
  • Establishes a sense of community.
  • Offers a variety of assessments to modules within a course.
  • Helps monitor continuous engagement with the module (as contributions are time-limited).
  • Helps address any misconceptions in a timely manner rather than at the end of a module (as opposed to students submitting a traditional assignment with no opportunity for formative feedback).

Despite these benefits, some may find online discussion forums difficult to run but recent research shows strategies to help mitigate these difficulties (Lima et al, 2019).

How could others implement this idea?

This idea could be used in a range of contexts (not just clinical courses) as it allows flexibility and variety depending on the module requirements. For example, it can help assess students’ prior knowledge before covering a topic in class or help create a repository of exam questions for revision purposes (if students are asked to create and discuss MCQ questions on specific topics). In addition, discussion forums help to keep students at the centre of their learning and create a sense of community offering an opportunity to engage with other students in the cohort. Most learning management systems will accommodate the use of online threads (e.g. Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle). Please see an example of a discussion thread showing how students are encouraged to engage with the topic (Figure 1). Students’ feedback shows that they have fun engaging with others in this way.


Screenshot - Example of a Discussion thread on Canvas
Figure 1. Example of a Discussion thread on Canvas


To implement this idea in your own context, follow the following steps:

  1. Decide which aspects of your course will benefit from independent research by the students and select those that work best in the context of a discussion forum.
  2. Plan a variety of questions for each discussion thread. For example, you can start with a scenario, followed by some questions suggesting students to contribute in a variety of ways (e.g. explore relevant literature, websites, videos).
  3. Decide the frequency of discussion forums in your module (e.g. compulsory participation in discussion threads every fortnight). For asynchronous discussion forums you will also need to consider how long each discussion thread will be open for contributions and expectations from students (i.e. how many student contributions are required in terms of new posts and/or responses to previous posts).
  4. Review whether the discussion forum aligns well with learning outcomes and other sessions in the module (i.e. does it align with content provided in previous lectures).
  5. Set clear rules regarding participation (e.g. contributions need to be unique) and online netiquette (including respect to others and forgiving other’s mistakes).
  6. Decide who will monitor the discussion (and how often). For small class sizes, you may need to set time aside weekly to respond to contributions and for large cohorts you may need to assign this role to students.
  7. Decide and share your marking scheme and weighting of contributions. An advantage of discussion forums is that it allows to mark contributions during the trimester. In addition, it will also help you identify students not engaging with your course early on.
  8. Include a ‘test’ discussion thread – to allow students to familiarise themselves with the technology (e.g. uploading an image/video) and requirements.

Links to tools and resources

You can find several online resources offering tips on how best to use discussion boards. Consider reviewing the following before you start:

One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here: https://openpress.sussex.ac.uk/ideasforactivelearning/?p=1390#oembed-1


Bloxham, S., & Boyd, P. (2007). Developing effective assessment in higher education: A practical guide. Open University Press.

Benbunan-Fich R., Hiltz S. R. (1999). Impacts of asynchronous learning networks on individual and group problem solving: A field experiment. Group Decision and Negotiation, 8(5), 409–26. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008669710763

Lima D. P. R., Gerosa M. A., Conte T. U., & Netto J. F. M. (2019). What to expect, and how to improve online discussion forums: The instructors’ perspective. Journal of Internet Services and Applications, 10, 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13174-019-0120-0

Image Attributions

Eye Test by Marta Vianya-Estopa  is used under CC-BY 4.0 license.

Figure 1. Screenshot – Example of a Discussion thread on Canvas by Marta Vianya-Estopa is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Author

Dr Marta Vianya-Estopa teaches in various modules within Optometry and Ophthalmic Dispensing courses. Although her main research is in the area of contact lenses, she also has a strong interest in how best to integrate active learning when teaching optics related courses.


Assessed presentations to a non-expert audience

Isobel Gowers

What is the idea?

When we talk about active learning it is also important to discuss how we are going to assess this learning. We want students to be able to go beyond regurgitating facts, we want students to develop communication skills they will need for work, so we need to think about what assessments we use to enable this to happen. In this idea, students had to take technical information and present it to a lay audience. It meant that the students needed to think deeply about the content to include the right amount of background and to keep technical jargon and academic speak to a minimum, whilst still correctly conveying the information in an engaging and informative manner.

Why this idea?

Many of our graduates will work in multi-disciplinary teams and need to converse or write for a range of audiences with a varying level of knowledge. In my experience exams and academic essays do little to prepare students to do this, so I was looking for an alternative form of assessment. As Race (2014, p. 90) put it: ‘There is often a considerable gap between what we get learners to do in our assessment and what they will need to be good at throughout their careers’.

Exams and essays often require students to communicate in an academic style, not in a way they will need to communicate in their professional life. Through using these presentations to a lay audience I wanted to assess both the students’ knowledge and application of the content but also their ability to communicate in a method appropriate to their future professional career. I also wanted to use authentic assessment as there is evidence that this increases both students’ engagement with learning and their satisfaction, recently reviewed in Sokhanvar et al. (2021). There are a number of slightly differing definitions of authentic learning available in the literature but for me the definition of Gulikers et al., (2004 p. 69)  sums it up nicely as: ‘An assessment requiring students to use the same competencies, or combinations of knowledge, skills and attitudes that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life.’

I used this idea when teaching equine behaviour and veterinary physiotherapy students. In both cases they will need to work with both veterinary surgeons and other professionals as well as horse owners. Secondly, they will often be self-employed and need to be able to market themselves. Therefore, getting students to present technical information to a non-expert audience not only encouraged application of complex knowledge and critical thinking in selecting what detail needed to be presented but also provided a scenario that they might find themselves in once they have graduated.

One of the criticisms other academics have directed at me is that students do not have the opportunity to develop the assessment literacy skills they need if you keep changing the format of the assessment. I disagree because one of the first things I do when designing these types of assessment is to include the chance to engage with the assessment criteria and include lots of formative opportunities. The two methods of engaging students with the assessment criteria I most frequently use are getting students to mark three examples of students work against the assessment criteria and then having a discussion to see what marks were given in line with the criteria. The second is getting students involved in writing the assessment criteria once they know what the task is.

I used two specific formative exercises. The first was following a taught session where they used the practical time with the horses to make a short video that presented the technical content from the session to a public audience, for example a video that could be used on their website or video channel (YouTube, Vimeo etc.). I provided them with some example videos from other specialists in their area. The students completed the videos in class and they were shared via the VLE where they had to provide peer feedback. The second was a journal club activity, where in small groups they had to present a recent academic paper to their fellow students, making sure that they presented all the technical information from the paper in a way that all their fellow students could understand. In both cases this gives students the opportunity to practice communicating in this alternative manner that is often unfamiliar to them and secondly it provides opportunity to get feedback from their peers as well as the tutor.

How could others implement this idea?

Think of a scenario where your graduates might have to present technical information to a non-expert audience. This might be the public or other areas of a company or industry. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a presentation; it could be an alternative form or writing such as a magazine article or technical bulletin if that is more appropriate to your discipline.

Think about what learning activities you could do in class that will help students learn the content alongside the skills they need to complete the assessment. This might include exercises to think about the language used to communicate to different audiences, I have previously had students compare language used in newspapers, magazines and journal articles. Another exercise that can be used is students doing short in class presentations explaining a single complex and technical idea so that others can understand it. The students in the audience can provide peer feedback on whether they understood the content but also on how engaging the presenter was.

Transferability to different contexts

This idea could be used in many different subject areas and at all levels (I have used at levels 5,6 and 7). It doesn’t necessarily need to be a presentation, it could be an alternative form or writing such as a magazine article or technical bulletin or it could be a video, podcast or something similar if that is more appropriate to your discipline. The key behind the idea is that the students need to share complicated and maybe technical content in a way that is understandable to an non-expert audience. To be able to communicate well on the topic students have to have developed a good understanding of the topic and the depth and breadth of their research is evident in their delivery even though this is not received in a typical academic form.


Gulikars, J., Bastiaens, T., & Kirschner, P. (2004) A five-dimensional framework for authentic assessment. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(3), 67-85. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02504676

Race, P. (2014) Making learning happen: A guide for post-compulsory education (3rd ed.). Sage.

Sokhanvar, Z., Salehi, K., & Sokhanvar, F. (2021) Advantages of authentic assessment for improving the learning experience and employability skills of higher education students: A systematic literature review. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 70, 101030. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2021.101030

About the Author

Throughout Dr Isobel Gowers’ teaching career, she has been interested in active learning. Initially using techniques such as problem based learning in her teaching but gradually increasing her repertoire of active learning methods. After 10 years as a lecturer Isobel shifted to educational management and currently works to promote active learning at ARU.


Story Game-Based Learning

Tab Betts

Image of a story book, with a pirate, a pirate ship and letters of the alphabet emerging from its pages

What is the idea?

This chapter will introduce the idea of Story Game-Based Learning (SGBL). The approach starts from a fanciful question: What if academic courses were designed as story-based games? This leads on to a more serious educational question: Is it possible to improve the learning experience by using story and game elements as tools to enhance the course content and learning design? In trying to answer this second question, Malone and Lepper’s theory of intrinsically motivating instruction (Malone, 1980, 1981; Malone & Lepper, 2021) suggested three components which should be incorporated to enhance learning design:

  • A problem-solving challenge with an uncertain outcome, where the challenge-skill balance is adjusted on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of your individual learners (challenge)
  • An aesthetically pleasing sensory experience, using mystery and gradual revealing of knowledge to stimulate aesthetic and intellectual curiosity (curiosity)
  • A shared narrative or problem-solving scenario within which the learning is contextualised (fantasy)

This chapter will explore how these elements can be incorporated into the key stages of the learning process using story-game design, assessment and activities.

Why this idea?

There is a growing argument that stories and games are invaluable tools for motivating learners (e.g. Abbott, 2018; Squire et al., 2008; Williams et al., 1999; Zhang & Shang, 2015). With the success of video games to capture the imagination of society and the way in which visual storytelling platforms such as Netflix and YouTube have enthralled the public consciousness, these communicative modes clearly have something to teach us about engagement. In recent years, a wide range of research has emerged which supports the idea of game-based learning and storytelling in education (e.g. Abbott, 2018; Bitskinashvili, 2018; Malone & Lepper, 2021; Sidhu & Carter, 2021; Sidhu et al., 2021; Zhang & Shang, 2015).

How could others implement this idea?

Games and storytelling can be incorporated into almost every stage of the learning process. You may wish to start by experimenting with one or two of these, rather than trying to adopt them all in one go.

Story-game design – The principles of Story Game-Based Learning could be used to revise the overall