Traditionally most courses in Higher Education institutions are devised predominantly by academic staff who are the experts on the subject that is going to be taught. It has long been recognised, however, that academics are not necessarily professionally trained in how students best learn. Much is left to the academic’s intuition and ‘what feels right’ when doing the teaching.
A better way forward is to include teaching teams in the process of course design, so that different perspectives and expertise are brought into the designing of learning experiences. The academic is still front and centre, of course, but the inclusion of other voices ensure that the learning for students takes full advantage of the resources available and the best approaches for learning to take place.
In #LTHEchat 245: Teaching Teams, we take a look at the complexities of the relationships between the academic teachers, developers (such as learning designers and technologists), librarians, careers, health and wellbeing, and other services that can (or perhaps should) be part of a course design process.
This is a subject that I considered alongside David Baume for a forthcoming chapter on course design. Here, we thought about the tensions between the separate roles that might occur in a teaching team situation. We considered how learning designers and technologists (myself included) can sometimes struggle to collaborate well with the academic teachers, because we have different priorities for how the teaching might occur. A good working relationship can take time to form but often there just isn’t time to do that. In the chapter we wrote:
The academic may retreat in apprehension back to the, perhaps relatively modest, range of learning and teaching methods with which they are familiar in in-person education. This may feel safe. However, not all methods used in in-person education have a natural, appropriate counterpart in the VLE. The long lecture is a good example, even when transcript and recording are provided. A long lecture can still be a somewhat pre-Gutenberg, let alone pre-worldwide web, experience, despite the use of PowerPoint. Also, not all of the methods used in in-person education may be particularly effective, or have a particularly sound educational rationale, even in person. These teaching methods may be familiar, even sometimes comfortable, to teacher and students, rather than being of proven effectiveness, so new and potentially valuable and appropriate teaching and learning methods may not be adopted online. The course, and the students, may be much poorer as a result. Alternatively, the academic may rush to embrace new methods, perhaps with mixed results in the absence of a sound rationale for choosing particular methods. A productive relationship between learning technologist or learning designer and lecturer may take some time and effort to develop and maintain. They cannot fully become members of each other’s world, but some mutual respect, preferably evidence-based respect, is essential for the development of good online education.
Mutual respect is important, but what else is needed? There are many questions here, and plenty of challenges. How do you already work with other roles in your institution? How might these collaborations become more effective and enjoyable? What would be the ideal?
Matthew Phillpott is a writer, educator, and historian with expertise in online, face-to-face, and hybrid training solutions and digital teaching practices. Matthew is currently working freelance, including at the University of the Arts London, and previously worked for the University of London. Matt is a Fellow of the University of London Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE). You can find out more about Matt on his website or connect via Twitter @mphillpott.
When designing teaching, learning and/or training sessions and modules we all commence with learning outcomes, official or unofficial. These provide a good statement of what our learners at the end of a set time should be able to demonstrate. These are then translated into aligned learning materials and in due course summative assessments.
At certain points in the teaching cycle we will “gather information about the success of our teaching, assessment and feedback in enabling students to meet the intended outcomes” (UKPSF K5 dimension). Perhaps we find:
a) Time has moved on and the materials are now out of date
b) Feedback we gained for sessions and/or assessment let us know that we needed to make some adaptions to support engagement / motivation / active learning for our whole cohort or certain sub-groups.
Often, we are responsible for creating learning materials on our own as a module or session lead and may be the only one in our institution that teaches a specific subject. Whatever the situation, there will be times when we stare at a session or module and feel a little stuck or just need to chat through teaching or workshop ideas.
Community Co-creation Across Institutional Borders
I am programme lead for the Distance Learning Postgraduate Certificate of Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Birmingham as well as the designated Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) “expert” in the Educational Development team. Knowing that the TEL session (of 3 contact hours) was coming up in a few months I recently sat down to review and start planning. The TEL sessions have been very much influenced by the pandemic over the last few years and some themes, messaging and terminology needed to be updated.
What to do? Co-creation sprang to mind. A plan started to evolve:
1) I firstly pivoted to our wonderful HEFi Digital Education community, making a call for any that were interested and had the time and desire to join me in redesigning the TEL session. They are at the coal-face, working closely with academic and professional services colleagues and can bring a perspective I no longer have access to.
2) Secondly it is important to ask our learner participants on the PGCHE programme – I made a note in my calendar.
3) Thirdly, I’ve a wonderful national and international Higher Education community that I can reach out to via Twitter. What about cocreating a TEL session on a grander scale? If I’m considering how to redesign such a topical session, surely others are too or at least will have an opinion on its focus and themes.
On the 5th of October I put my first call out on Twitter (tagging as many colleagues as a tweet would allow) to help start and promote some co-creation beyond institutional borders. I asked:
The response was wonderful and beyond inspiring. Colleagues from around the UK, Europe and Australasia added their ideas to the thread which kept pinging for two solid days. One of the many themes that emerged was around TEL terminology. Reference was made to the epic “Different ‘modes’ of learning” diagram created by @suebecks which
Conversations then jokingly introduced a the newest term on the block – “hyblendoflexical”, coined by @mart_compton. This sparked my sense of humour and I subsequently started another community call for participation / co-creation of a mythical, co-delivered and cross institutional “MSc in Hyblendoflexical Teaching and Learning”. The thread called for module leads and module titles and sparked a whole host of allied conversations about programme structure, attendance, grading, workload allocation models and so much more led in part by @mart_compton, @Puiyin and myself.
💬 Co-creation of a PGCLTHE module titled “Becoming a Critically Reflective Educator”
My “call to arms” for the October 19th 22 LTHEchat revolves around the community co-creation of a PGCLTHE module called “Becoming a Critically Reflective Educator” inspired by the book: Brookfield, S.D., (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher. John Wiley & Sons.
Key Contextual Informationfor this Mythical Module:
Programme of Study: This course will be situated within a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PGCLTHE).
Level: Master’s level – 20 credit module which is assessed against a set of University quality assured Learning Outcomes and against the UKPSF D2 fellowship descriptors.
Length: The module runs over a six month period with five sessions, each of three student contact hours.
Teaching Team: team taught by a mixture of academic and third space professionals.
Learners: Our learners are a mixture of mostly early career academic and pracademic colleagues (probationary requirement) along with some third space and professional services staff that teach and/or support learning. Our learners’ disciplines range from the Social Sciences and Humanities (eg. Business, Social Work, Politics, International Development, Education, Languages, Law & Arts) to STEM (eg. Engineering, Sport and Exercise Sciences, Geography, Biosciences, Psychology & Dentistry). The exact disciplinary demographics change with every cohort. We recruit aprox. 35 participants per cohort.
Come along on the 19th October, 8-9pm BST (and anytime afterwards) to contribute to the 6 tweet trigger questions and help co-create themes / activities / readings that might be included in a range of 3hr PGCLTHE sessions.
📸 Chat Lead Biography: Danielle Hinton (SFHEA)
Danielle is a member of the Educational Development team and former Instructional Designer within the Higher Education Futures institute (HEFi) at the University of Birmingham. She is the programme lead for the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (Distance Learning) and leads the HEFi monthly Reading Group (https://twitter.com/HEFi_reading). She mentors and assesses on the HEFi Beacon HEA Fellowship scheme, contributes to educational enhancement projects and facilitates teaching related CPD. Her interests include Active Blended Learning, Lego Serious Play, teaching identity (including EDI from a faith-based perspective), academic transitions to HE teaching and the emotions of teaching and learning. She authored the “Curriculum Futures Situational Factors in Learning Design” framework.
In many respects this tweetchat follows on from the fantastic discussion #LTHEchat 238: Digital Inequality led by Puiyin Wong @Puiyin, 15th June 2022. During this discussion we discovered that the three of us had made the same worrying observation during the pandemic. When we had to go online quickly one of the reasons we found students were sometimes not engaging was due to equipment at home; but there appeared to be unwillingness to admit to this. Post-pandemic, we still see some students choosing to self-exclude from technology enhanced learning activities rather than declare digital inequality issues. After some discussion we realised that we didn’t know the answer (or even a partial solution) to addressing this and therefore we are interested in insights from the community. Is this a pattern seen elsewhere? What can we do?
During this week’s tweetchat we will try and explore why this behaviour arises. Is it driven by the assumption that all students have access to the equipment and workspace both on campus and at home (and is this assumption correct)? Why might students choose not to be open about their challenges caused by digital inequalities (e.g. doing everything on a phone or poor wifi) and how this may lead to self-exclusion from their learning? Is this going to get worse in the short-term due to the cost of living crisis and in the longer term due to new technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) being used in learning?
How do we avoid increasing the digital divide between those who can buy kits for home and those that can’t? What can we do to mitigate this? Do these technology based approaches throw up accessibility issues, not just digital inequality?
Finally, is there anything that can be learned from previous leaps in technologies introduced into teaching pedagogy, for example the introduction and use of the internet, VLEs and associated software applications?
Christina: Being a life-long avid fan of video games, I have found a natural home at Newcastle University developing game-based learning strategies to enhance learning and teaching in STEM education and how this can intersect with the application of digital technologies to enhance and scale-up these approaches.
Gareth: After a period of working in industry, he was awarded a MSc in Marketing with Distinction at Kent University. Gareth has worked in the education sector, both FE and HE, for over 15 years, as well as working self employed in digital marketing, and IT support for small local businesses. Now works at Canterbury Christ Church University.
Main focus has been on developing student’s problem-solving and programming skills, and it has spun off into engagement with schools and many other things I have been fortunate to be involved in. Now work at Canterbury Christ Church University.
How does social media help you to develop as an educator? My PhD research looks at how early career researchers use Twitter for identity development. Framed around the Identity-Trajectory framework (McAlpine et al, 2014) my research explores how early career researchers use Twitter to develop ‘communities of interest’ (or networks), and the extent of the influence of these ‘communities of interests’ on early career researchers’ scholarly and intellectual development. My research focuses on early career researchers, but I think that this framework is also applicable to other career stages (Jordan, 2019) and job families.
In this week’s tweet chat, we will consider together how social media has helped to shape our personal and professional identities, and how we might use social media in the future as educators. We will also look at potential barriers to using social media in learning and teaching.
Carrigan, M. (2019). Social media for academics. Sage.
Goffman, E. (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday.
Lenandlar Singh is a lecturer in the department of computer science at the University of Guyana and a PhD student at Lancaster University, England. Lenandlar has a background in Computer Science and Internet Computing with a focus on human computer interaction. His present research explores how social networks are used in higher education.
Time is a crucial element in planning teaching and learning. In the past 3 years we have been forced to pay more attention to it as teaching and learning have a different temporal dimension online. But this doesn’t always come easy.
Regardless of the modality and environment, in our rather troubled relation with time we run two risks:
to spend too little time both for planning and teaching, leaving students with little guidance and support;
to spend too much time, over-design the course, thus overwhelming students with a myriad of resources and often unrealistic tasks.
Finding the right balance.
Trying to get this balance right is crucial for our well-being and that of our students. Calculating time pragmatically can help us manage our workload and also manage student expectations. We might not get it right the first time around so we need to keep trying. This can only be an iterative process.
Here are some ideas on how to approach this:
First things first: we can only have a realistic time estimate if we have a clear idea about our teacher presence. How much time are we planning to spend interacting with students? In which way(s)? At which points in the course does the interaction need to be more intense? And how are we planning to provide feedback?
Consider the fine line between structure and flexibility. Clear task instructions and precise timelines are useful, but offering students a choice on how to tackle certain tasks is part of the flexibility that makes studying online attractive and helps them train their self-directed learning skills. Try to account for both structured time and unstructured time in your estimation.
It’s a matter of alternately zooming in and zooming out. We need to go granular and calculate time on task but at the same time we also need to maintain a holistic view of the learning process. Learning activities do not exist in a vacuum, they ideally build on each other and require preparation time as well as time for feedback and debriefing.
Don’t forget your students. Make sure you communicate your expectations in terms of time and outputs clearly. Ask them for feedback often (at least in the beginning) and try to adjust accordingly.
Some useful tools.
Estimating time is closely linked to the course design process. The Learning Designer is a tool that enables educators to design and plan their courses in detail, including various activity types, time on task, synchronous/ asynchronous ratio, activities that require teacher presence vs. independent learning, etc. It is also a useful platform to share course design with peers, an important element for creating a community of practice.
There are tools that can help estimate Time on Task (see list of resources below), but we still need to be mindful of generalising and try to remember who our students are and the diverse situations they are in. We need to take into account the various types of learning (passive/ active, individual/collaborative, etc) included in the course and the balance among them. Spelling out the activity instructions step by step, including expected outputs, can help clarify what the task really involves, enabling us to make a more precise time estimation.
Dr. Alexandra Mihai is Assistant Professor of Innovation in Higher Education in the Department of Educational Research and Development, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University. In the first half of 2022 she was a Fulbright- Schuman Scholar at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale University. Previously she worked as Learning Designer at University College London (UCL), Curriculum Designer at the Institute of European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and led the Centre for Teaching Innovations at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Alexandra has a strong background in e-learning, learning design and innovative teaching strategies. In her PhD she analysed in how far technology is used in teaching practices at European universities.
For the first #LTHEchat of the academic year, transition seems to be a fitting theme as we are all starting the new academic year. There may be excitement and nerves along the way – both for students and staff! Transition, however, is an ongoing aspect of university life and not just into Higher Education, and this can have an influence on the students’ sense of belonging, identities and community.
Transition can be a complex process that influences the sense of identity and relationships, particularly among students both individually and in context (O’Donnell, 2016). Students, regardless of whether they are just entering HE, progressed into the next year or returning from either suspension of study or repeating a level, will start their journey but the importance of a smooth transition can play a role in the outcome. The analogy of the Wizard of Oz’s yellow brick road (Palmer, 2020) can help illustrate this; Students are following the road to an outcome, whether it is their desired outcome or changes along the way e.g. reassessments; but there may be some barriers along the way that can affect the transition.
Transition is an opportunity to feed into the sense of belonging, supporting the student’s sense of identities as it evolves over time, and encouraging a caring and committed community at university. Pre-arrival and induction are, of course, starting points of the transition, but this is something to continue throughout the student’s studies and into the outcome of their journey, particularly as students will change and adapt depending on their experiences.
If a student were to have a bumpy transition, for example poor communication about their timetable or not having the opportunity to meet their peers, this may contribute to the outcome of their journey; either their engagement declines and are required to do reassessments, or they withdraw voluntarily from their studies. There can be alternative routes to support the student e.g., repeating the year; but transition for this should be smooth to allow them to make the most of the opportunity and be able to succeed in their studies. Should they have a positive experience, not only are they likely to help them develop in their resilience and confidence, then they are likely to feel that their institution is committed to the student and that they belong at university, therefore they are more likely to remain.
As an example, students progressing from Foundation Year at the University of Hull will be joining a cohort of new Year One students in September, which is a big change to what they have developed over the year in terms of their self-perception of their identities, sense of belonging to the programme cohort and progressing from the community of support from the Foundation Year team. To support them with this transition, students are allocated their new personal supervisors prior to them arriving back to University where they have the opportunity to meet and get to know them. This can be reassuring, particularly if they have had a difficult year and required support. This may include a handover from myself as their Foundation Year Tutor to the new personal supervisor, with the student’s involvement which can demonstrate a strong sense of belonging and person-centred support.
When considering the transition points throughout the students’ studies, consider the following questions and some of the comments I have included:
How can we create a smooth transition into and throughout higher education? This is where both barriers and good practice could be mapped out, and potentially explored with students in partnership to get their perspectives based on their experiences. Gale and Parker’s framework of Transition in Induction, Development and Becoming (2014) can be useful to consider transition across the student journey.
How can we encourage and develop students to recognise and embrace their evolving perspectives of their identities during their studies? Their identities are more complex and can change over time, such as a later diagnosis of a specific learning difference or changes in their family support network. Thomas and May’s four-pronged typology of a student (2010) can demonstrate that students identities vary depending on their educational experiences, their dispositional and circumstantial situations and their cultural experience.
How can we nurture a sense of belonging throughout their time with us, and beyond? Belonging can appear in various guises whether this is physical, socially or emotionally. Students may find this in different settings e.g. accommodation, societies or in the communal area before their class. But over time, it may change and this could influence the student’s decision to remain at university or not. In the What Work’s project (Thomas, 2012), core interventions throughout the student journey can play a role in sense of belonging; such as supportive peer relations and meaningful interactions between staff and students.
How can we establish and maintain purposeful and caring communities among students and staff? Boyer’s Six Principles of communities in Higher Education (1990) is still relevant to today. An inclusive community among staff and students can allow opportunities for us to be purposeful, caring, open, just, celebrative and disciplined. Whether communities are developed through academic or social interactions, these can play a role in how students interact with their studies and beyond; whether it is forming study groups or having the opportunity to feedback and develop practice with staff.
Regardless of whether we work in professional services or academia, we contribute to the transition of students into and throughout university. Whether it’s signposting to support, running social activities or working in partnership with students about their programme and student experience; these transition points can feed into how the student feels about themselves, their sense of belonging and their community. Transition into the following year may change this for the student, so it is important to consider how either to enhance or support the students in the changes they may encounter particularly with their identities, belonging and communities.
Emma is a Foundation Year Tutor at the University of Hull, working with the Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education (FACE) and Faculty of Business, Law and Politics (FBLP) to support and enhance the transition and retention of Foundation Year students. Prior to this, Emma was a Student Life Officer within Student Services on which she supported students through key transition points; from arrival to exploring options such as mitigating circumstances and repeat year. In 2019, Emma was recognised as one of Hull and Humber’s Top 30 Under 30’s for her work in student experience both in HE and FE. Emma is a member of the SEDA Transitions Community of Practice and has Fellow status.
Emma has a keen interest in student identity and their sense of belonging, and how this is influenced based on academia and social circumstances. This has fed into development of projects and resources, such as contributing to a Teaching Essentials toolkit for University of Hull staff for understanding student identities.
Resources and further reading.
Boyer, E. (1990) Campus Life: In search of Community. United States of America. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Gale, T., and Parker, S. (2014) Navigating Change: A typology of student transition in Higher Education. Studies in Higher Education. 39(5) pp. 734 – 753.
O’Donnell, V. L., Kean, M., and Stevens, G. (2016) Student Transition in Higher Education. Higher Education Academy.
Palmer, E. (2020) Somewhere where they Belong: Understanding the impact and influence on UK Undergraduate students’ Transitions, Identities, Sense of Belonging and Communities within a diverse and changing Higher Education sector. MA. University of Hull
Thomas, L., and May, H. (2010) Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York. Higher Education Academy.
Intro Once upon a time, in a not so distant era, university students were given assessments to complete that required them to regurgitate disseminated lecture material with little opportunity to demonstrate creativity, originality, or innovative thinking. Assessments were handed in at the end of term as a meltdown mountain of panic and stress loomed. These assessments were often rushed, held little value to the students submitting them and were, most likely, never looked at again by the students. It almost felt like a tick-box exercise.
Thankfully this fairy tale is not yet over and is taking an exciting turn. Fast forward to 2022, and the advent of a new era of more active and creative assessments has begun. The focus on assessment has fueled a renewed interest in looking at exactly what we are asking students to do and why. What value is this particular task going to be to students going forward? How are we going to make the process of learning enjoyable? How can we draw on student experience to enrich their learning and ours? In trying to answer these questions, we found ourselves increasingly breaking down large assessment goals into a series of smaller tasks that required students to actively go and explore, create and innovate, which is where the idea of active assessment arose. Far removed from the days of students passively regurgitating lecture content back to us, active assessment involves students thinking outside of the box and drawing on their own experience to make links with new content.
One example is the active essay writing project. This project breaks down the task of producing a good quality written response into a series of stages, each of which facilitates student creativity and innovation. For example, in Stage 1, rather than simply regurgitating a lecture or frantically googling an entire essay title to find relevant literature, students are encouraged to start with their own ideas and thoughts around a key question. In doing so, we ask them to imagine having a conversation about that question with another person, and to think about the sort of points, questions, and debates that might arise.These ideas are then presented as a collage, enabling students to put their artistic mark on this initial stage of the assignment. They may not want to take all of these ideas forward but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is to give students the opportunity to draw on their own experience, respecting the diverse perspectives they might bring to their work, to develop confidence in their own ideas, and to be creative in their presentation of these. By the time they get to stage 2, where they search the academic literature, they already have some ideas to start with which enables them to enter more specific search terms into the search engines, guided by their own independent thinking, that they will use as a starting point for this part of the process.
While this only covers the initial stages of Active Essay Writing (for more see links below), hopefully it is clear how even traditional assessment types, like essays, can quickly become more active and engaging for students, and in turn, enable them to engage with something personally and academically valuable, starting with their own experiences and thoughts and using these as a way into the academic literature. However, this is only one example. In our Tweetchat, we look forward to exploring the idea further, looking at the backdrop, benefits and barriers to this idea further. We welcome you to the discussion…
Bio Wendy Garnham is a Reader in Psychology at the University of Sussex and is a National Teaching Fellow. She is also the co-founder of the Active Learning Network, an international award-winning collaborative network for anyone interested in active learning. Wendy also co-hosts both the monthly SEDA Transitions Community of Practice meetings and the SEDA Teach Meets every Tuesday. Currently, Wendy is the Director of Student Experience for the Foundation Year Programmes at Sussex.
Heather Taylor is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She is also a member of the SEDA Transitions Community of practice and is the Head of both Widening Participation and Attainment in Psychology and the Recruitment and Schools Outreach Officer in Psychology at the University of Sussex.
Why is it so important to draw on student experience in assessment? Bevitt, S. (2015). Assessment innovation and student experience: A new assessment challenge and call for a multi-perspective approach to assessment research. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(1), 103-119.
For an interesting read about the importance of creativity in assessments: Matraeva, A. D., Rybakova, M. V., Vinichenko, M. V., Oseev, A. A., & Ljapunova, N. V. (2020). Development of creativity of students in higher educational institutions: assessment of students and experts. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 8(1), 8-16.
Digital inequality or digital divide is the disparity between people who have access to digital technologies and those who don’t. People from certain socioeconomic backgrounds have always been more affected. This gap has most definitely been widened in the last couple of years, when “carrying on as normal” depended on reliable digital devices and a stable internet connection.
To put this in the context of education, the Student digital experience insights survey 2020/21: UK higher education findings published in September 2021 has revealed 63% of the 38,916 students who responded have had issues with WiFi. The survey explicitly states that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been more affected. If students don’t have stable access to the internet, then it is reasonable to assume they might have had trouble accessing learning activities and materials at some points.
The pandemic has been a double edged sword. On the one hand, it has presented us with many wonderful opportunities to revisit how digital technologies can support the design and delivery of good educational experiences. For example, many successful implementations of blended learning and hybrid learning have made education more flexible and accessible for students with different needs. However, on the other hand, all of these amazing achievements have been, to a large extent, at the expense of our students who are affected by digital inequality.
Some universities have put interventions in place to bridge the gap, for instance, laptop loans, hardship funds, “free” wifi dongles and so on. However, as a pessimist, I cannot see any of these being a long term solution because sooner or later, these will stop, if they haven’t already. More crucially, these provisions feel like putting a plaster on an old infected wound, when we really should tend to it so it can heal properly.
As educators, we ought to look at the longer term, more sustainable ways to try and tackle this problem from within our own practice. We should look at whether our teaching is equitable not only from an accessibility point of view, but also from the perspective of access. Only then, the world might be a little bit fairer and our students could be a little bit happier.
To end this post, I want to mention something a friend said in an interview for a related study I conducted recently. He said some of his students who come from a cultural minority background, who are also the poorest, had to travel over 40 miles a day just to get stable access to the internet. They became so stressed and focused on whether they could login to join a webinar on time, the rest of the educational experience didn’t matter to them anymore. Being at university should be some of the most exciting and fun experiences in life, but it isn’t the case for more people than we care to admit.
Puiyin Wong is a PhD researcher in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University. Puiyin is also a Learning Technologist at the Royal College of Art.
Puiyin’s research interests include digital access and inclusion/exclusion due to political, racial and social disparities; how open educational resources (OER) might bridge the gap for those less privileged. In addition, Puiyin is very passionate about how, by developing learners’ digital capabilities, their practices can benefit. For example, how learners can competently and confidently develop their individual online identities, comfortably moving between different online spaces, using a range of digital tools and resources that can help them achieve their educational goals.
This #LTHEchat post and associated tweetchat aims to explore Higher Education identity. In particular we’d like to explore issues around coping with the change brought on by the sharp shock of the pandemic and making sense of self and role as blended teachers and supporters of learning.
Pandemic Shock and Disruption
The Covid19 pandemic meant that Higher Education staff were suddenly dealing with increasing challenges and rapid change. This included
working at home, in isolation and/or in chaos, many times without equipment (chairs, computers and quiet space)
thrust online often with feelings of imposter syndrome, panic, fear, loss and bewilderment
needing to adapt to rapidly changing calls from University management as they reacted to sector and student needs with the pace of change to teaching, supporting learning and assessing being significant
personal isolation, fear, changing dynamics and opportunities
society in turmoil in all aspects
The shock and disruption of the pandemic has certainly eclipsed the proposed disruption promoted in the early MOOC era. The necessary pivot to online teaching and supporting learning meant that all staff needed to embrace the online space. Arguably some of the biggest shock was felt by colleagues who might have been categorised as being part of Late Majority (34%) and Laggards (16%) in terms of online teaching or supporting learning adoption.
Educator (teachers / supporters of learning) Identity
Identities are fluid, adapting through experience and this applies to an educator’s professional identity (Beauchamp and Thomas, 2009 cited in El-Soussi, 2020), including those considered to be blended and other third space professionals providing learning support (Azadbakht, E.S., 2021; Whitchurch C. 2009).
Teacher identity and the identities of HE educators has been explored extensively over the years. Academic (including teaching and supporting learning) professional identity is fluid, influenced by multiple factors including
our disciplinary affiliations and norms,
feedback and interactions from students,
the direct work environment,
our own experiences at School and University – including “proper ways of doing it”, experiences positive and negative as a learner,
Our transitions into different roles within higher education
wider context of higher education and available CPD, including interactions with and expertise of colleagues.
Our confidence and self-efficacy as educators can be undermined when many of these factors are absent or compromised causing feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty of who we are (Henkel, 2000: 251; Becher and Trowler, 2001, 47; van Lankveld et al, 2017, Smith et al., 2022).
Moving Online: Impacts on Identity
Under the ‘rapid’ move to online teaching, studies (e.g. El-Soussi, 2022; Smith et al, 2022) have confirmed that many academic staff
Reconsidered their teaching personas and beliefs about effective teaching approaches;
Had feelings of incompetence as they learnt new tools and their status as ‘subject experts’ diminished;
Expressed concerns about how they might effectively pastor students given ‘chance encounters’ to check in were reduced;
Recognised the importance of ‘seeing’ faces as they taught/supported learners;
Had understandable concerns about sharing their home/personal lives through their cameras in particular.
Turned more to colleagues and personal learning networks for technological support and ongoing CPD;
These weren’t all new features of the rapid move to online teaching/support however. Many aspects of identity change were expressed when an online approach was introduced in a planned manner (see Cutri and Mena, 2020, Thanaraj, 2016).
Lessons Learnt: Supporting Staff in Making Sense of Identity Transitions and Challenges
What are some of the lessons learnt then on how we might support staff to make sense of likely impacts on their identity when faced with changes and transition?
Provide assurance that concerns are valid
Providing some emotional support and offering assurance would help colleagues know that their fears and concerns are shared with others and ‘natural’.
Provide a safe environment to explore new techniques
Enabling staff to have time, safe places and peer support to adopt new approaches is key. We need to acknowledge that many new to teaching in HE since 2020, may have little or no experience of supporting learners synchronously and in person. They will need support and a “safe place” to experiment with in-person techniques.
Showing the ‘Personal’ Side to Connect with Students
Connecting with students is a key factor in influencing our identity. There are many different suggestions of trying to establish a connection with our learners both educationally and personally. But there are challenges in doing this with large cohorts in particular (regardless of mode) and showing an insight into your personality and background may not always be comfortable for either staff or students.
To help strengthen staff confidence, what advice can we offer to staff when efforts to build connections and engage learners do not work? What aspects of showing insights into your ‘personal’ life might be brought forward to a face to face learning situation?
Recognising Supportive “SuperStars”
Many staff went the extra mile to help colleagues adopt the technology and new approaches. There was also a greater willingness to share tips and expertise across institutions and online CPD became more affordable and practical to undertake.
How can we capitalise on, support and recognise individuals to be the exemplars of effective pedagogy regardless of mode and discipline? Where might that initiative and personal commitment fit into institutional reward and recognition policies, for example?
CPD as a planned, integrated approach to practice
‘Training’ and CPD became a vitally important part of supporting staff to adapt to new ways of teaching/supporting learning and assessment. Smith et al. (2022:10) note that ‘confidence based on mastery and competence will serve to consolidate any sense of self as an assured educational practitioner’.
Significant amounts of time were invested by staff to read, watch, “attend” various sources to equip themselves with both technical and pedagogical skills. It was unprecedented and at a time of incredible response, many staff worked excessive hours (some became the ‘superstars’ as noted above) and overall well-being was negatively impacted.
Clearly this approach cannot be maintained, but to minimise negative impacts on an educator’s professional identity, it’s in everybody’s interest to encourage and allow time for keeping one’s practice up to date. By enabling CPD to be seen as an integrated part of academic practice* we can mitigate against the shock that the rapid shaft to online approaches brought about. What are effective ways to do this?
Our personal and professional identities remain fluid, influenced by a variety of factors. Having the knowledge and skills to apply effective teaching approaches is one thing. But having a safe place to practice, the time to do so and institutional policies which respect trial and error in applying effective teaching practices are significant factors in promoting strong self-efficacy. To avoid staff burnout and/or leaving the academy for these particular reasons, how can we practically mitigate, in advance, against worries about identity disruption and give confidence to colleagues to adopt effective teaching approaches regardless of the mode?
*A key criterion of HEA Fellowship, Senior Fellowship and Principal Fellowship
El-Soussi, A. (2022) “The shift from face-to-face to online teaching due to COVID-19: Its impact on higher education faculty’s professional identity”, International Journal of Educational Research Open, Vol 3 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2022.100139
Henkel, M. (2000) Academic identities and policy change in higher education. London: Jessica Kingsley.
van Lankveld, T., J. Schoonenboom, M. Volman, G. Gerda Croiset and J Beishuizen, J. (2017) “Developing a teacher identity in the university context: a systematic review of the literature” Higher Education Research & Development, 36:2, 325-342, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1208154
Louise Rees – Following 8 years in Canada initially undertaking a Masters degree, followed by employment, Louise has worked at Swansea University since 2000, initially in the area of quality assurance/enhancement. Between 2000 and 2015, she oversaw the QA functions for taught programmes and coordinated the preparations for Institutional Review Preparations and supported a number of Working groups and sub-committee and the University’s Learning and Teaching Committee. It was during that time, in writing policies for learning teaching and assessment and in trying to guide programme directors through their challenging role, that Louise’s attention turned towards academic development. In 2015, Louise took on the role of Senior Academic Developer at Swansea University’s Academy for Learning and Teaching (SALT). She leads on the internally accredited programme for HEA Fellowship recognition and teaches on their PG Cert in teaching in Higher Education regarding professional identity for HE educators and in assisting participants reflect on their PG Cert journey.
Danielle Hinton – Danielle is an Educational Developer at the Higher Education Futures institute (HEFi), University of Birmingham. Danielle has worked in a variety of roles in Higher Education over the last 20 years including instructional design, e-learning and librarianship. In particular Danielle teaches on Birmingham’s PGCHE (as module lead and programme lead for our new online PGCHE) supports HEA Fellowship scheme, enhancement projects and CPD provision. She is particularly interested in active learning, the emotions of learning and teaching, enhancement of learning through technologies, distance learning, serious play in Higher Education and Education for Sustainable Development. @hintondm e-mail: email@example.com
This week’s chat on will be led by student interns Fernandos and Míde with their mentor Sharon on the theme of student partnerships.
The Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities Project (EDTL) is aimed at enhancing the digital attributes and educational experiences of Irish university students through enabling the mainstreamed and integrated use of digital technologies across the teaching and learning process. Between 2019 and 2021 we hired 20 student associate interns to the EDTL project with the aim of engaging students as co-creators in developing digital teaching and learning resources.
Using our internship model as a case-study, we conducted 18 qualitative interviews with 10 interns and 8 staff towards the end of 2021 with the aim of understanding (i) staff’s and students’ perspectives on students-staffs partnership in teaching and learning and (ii) students perceived benefits when actively involved as co-creators in teaching and learning.
Staff reported that having student interns brought about productivity and effectiveness in their work at their respective universities as they brought in authentic students’ voices through sharing their learning experiences and thoughts that would not have been otherwise captured by only staff in developing teaching and learning resources. On the other hand, student interns reported that the partnership made them feel as active stakeholders in the teaching and learning process and provided an avenue through which they shared their learning needs in creating resources.
Lessons drawn from our internship model highlight the value of actively involving students in the process of developing teaching and learning resources as they bring in authentic student voices and own the process.
Chat questions will be uploaded after the chat on Wednesday (no spoilers!) 😉
Míde is a Student Associate Intern for Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities. A Conamara native, she is a fluent Irish speaker and has just finished final year studying Law with Social Justice in University College Dublin. During her time in UCD she has been active in UCD Students’ Union as Oifigeach na Gaeilge and Law College Officer. She is a strong believer in the importance of the student voice in decision-making in Irish universities, with a particular interest in the concept of Students as Partners in teaching and learning
Fernandos Ongolly (@ongollyF)
Fernandos is a PhD student at UCD Michael Smurfit Business School. He has a background in anthropology with lots of experience in qualitative research. He has interests in technological innovation specifically design thinking and user experience research. Outside academic work, he is the auditor/chairperson of the UCD PhD Society. As part of his internship with the Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning project he has been conducting research into the impact of the student intern scheme through qualitative interviews with students and staff involved in the project.
Sharon Flynn (@SharonLFlynn)
Sharon is Project Manager for Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning in Irish Universities, funded through the Higher Education Authority Innovation and Transformation Programme. She works closely with senior academic leaders across the university sector to develop, pilot, review and roll out an ambitious staff development programme to enhance the digital confidence, skills and competences of those who teach in Irish universities.