#LTHEChat 229: Contextual analysis for inclusive learning and teaching. Led by: @VirnaRossi and @NokuthulaVila16 on 9 March 2022, 8 pm GMT

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How can contextual analysis support more inclusive design and teaching practices?

Both at curriculum design stage and at curriculum enactment stage teachers and those supporting learning tend to focus primarily on content and assessment:

  • What do the students ‘need’ to know (on this course, session or workshop)? 
  • How will they be assessed (pass)?

Certainly, we need to clarify the input students need on a course, even in the case of self-directed learning pathways. This can be in the form of themes, or it can be expressed in the form of learning goals. It is also important to identify suitable ways of assessing learning and progress, through various formal and informal formative and summative assessment aligned with the course themes and hoped-for outcomes. But we suggest a different starting point for learning design and enactment: before focussing on content and assessment, we ought to focus on wider contextual factors. There are many interacting contextual factors that affect learning on a course, so we need a 360-degree approach to contextual analysis. 

Know Thyself

First, know thyself. We need to become aware of our own personal context and positionality as academics: we need to see beyond our local contexts and become aware of just how culturally situated our understanding of knowledge, teaching and learning is. We could map our identities and reflect on questions such as: How does my (socio-cultural) background affect my worldview and my professional practice? What are the values that inform my practice currently? It is a good idea to share a positionality statement with students at the start of the course.

Understand our Students and their Context

Second, we need to better understand our students and their context. We must take time to get to know who our students are, what is their context and how this affects their learning. The most favourable and useful time to do this is just before a course starts in week 0 or week 1. Contextual considerations mean that we are giving attention to the learning environment of the students, taken with a broader meaning, in our learning design, using it as a third teacher and allowing it to shape the learning in order to more fully engage the students, because we better understand their positionality. Below you can read an example about culturally respectful students’ needs analysis done at the start of a course to inform more inclusive learning design.

Institutional Factors

Third, we need to recognise what forces are at play in our institutions and what contextual factors have the greatest impact on our learning design. The institutional learning environments available to us (physical and digital) have various affordances that we can exploit in learning design. A very big factor which affects the leeway afforded to teachers when designing and running courses is whether the curriculum is centralised or decentralised: in practice there’s usually a mix of both where some aspects are centrally controlled while others are left up to the academics. Assuming this is the case in your institution, and that you have a certain amount of freedom in the way you develop your course, ask yourself: What physical and learning spaces are available to me and what are their affordances and limitations? What are the local community and the broader national contexts which affect my institution’s priorities, policies and practices? How can I leverage institutional contextual factors to design more inclusive learning?

Disciplinary Context

Fourth, closely linked to this is the disciplinary context. What habits of heart, mind and hand do students need to develop to become proficient in my field? What are the big ideas and thresholds in my discipline? How have they changed in the past 50/20/10/5 years?

There is a two-way relationship between context and learning design: learning design depends on the context; on the other hand, the learning design affects, changes and can create new contexts.

Various contextual dimensions coexist and overlap.
Image copyright: Nat Bobinski and Virna Rossi

It is very important to recognise that all the contextual factors mentioned above are not fixed, on the contrary, they are in constant flux and they considerably overlap. In our busy academic schedule, it pays off to take the time to carry out a contextual analysis to inform our curriculum design at course level. 

Culturally Responsive Students’ Needs Analysis

Of the four dimensions above, the most crucial one is the students’ needs analysis. Nokuthula Vilakati (University of Eswatini) shares how she carries out a culturally responsive students’ needs analysis (as part of a broader contextual analysis) at the start of her courses.

We draw upon tenets of a cultural wealth model (Yosso, 2005) to underpin how we design a survey to get to know students better. An overarching aim is to appreciate the cultural capital that diverse students bring to the course from a non-deficit standpoint. Through the survey, we examine various forms of cultural capital: aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational, and resistance. As a result, we can better explore the talents, strengths, and experiences that students bring with them to enrich their learning environment. We are also able to avoid implicit bias. Academics need to have knowledge of their students for deep human connections to be forged prior to learning. To design the survey, we drew upon prompts suggested by Hall and Kidman, (2004: 333) as follows: 

Who are they? Where are they from? What reasons do they give for enrolling in the course? What background knowledge and skills do they bring to the course? What are the age, gender and ethnic characteristics of the class? What educational and professional qualifications do students already hold? Do the students have a rich work experience, or are they mainly straight from school? What approaches to study do they bring? And what networks already exist among students for peer support in learning?

Therefore, items in the survey include students indicating their preferred names other than the official one; pronouns; other self-identifying cultural markers; available circles of support. Additional items relate to identifying specific challenges likely to impede individual student success then the personalised forms of academic support to be proffered. Based on survey mini data, some of the students are identifiable as ‘high opportunity students,’ who require more personalised forms of learning support (Pacansky-Brock, et al. 2020). In the end, one is likely to be more inclusive in order ‘to leave no student behind.’ 


Students and other learners are our main stakeholder so we need to understand their context and needs in order to design relevant and rich learning experiences that will engage them and help them grow both academically and as human beings. The needs analysis and broader contextual analysis we carry out at the start of learning design might reveal hidden opportunities and is likely to lead us to design more holistic learning experiences and environments where context is king, not content.

References 📗

Bager-Elsborg, A. (2017). Discipline context shapes meaningful teaching: a case study of academic law. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 43. 1-13. 10.1080/0309877X.2017.1377162.

Becher, T. and Trowler, P. (2001) Academic Tribes and Territories: intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines (2nd edition). Buckingham: Open University Press

Gronseth, S. L., Michela, E., & Ugwu, L. O. (2020). Designing for Diverse Learners. In J. K. McDonald & R. E. West, Design for Learning: Principles, Processes, and Praxis. EdTech Books. Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/id/designing_for_diverse_learners 

Hall, C., & Kidman, J. (2004). Teaching and Learning: Mapping the Contextual Influences. International Education Journal5(3), 331-343. 

Hailu, M., Mackey, J., Pan, J., & Arend, B. (2016). Turning good intentions into good teaching: Five common principles for culturally responsive pedagogy. In Promoting Intercultural Communication Competencies in Higher Education (pp. 20-53). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-1732-0.ch002 

Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., and Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education. Current Issues in Education, 21(2).

Stentiford, L. & Koutsouris, G. (2021) What are inclusive pedagogies in higher education? A systematic scoping review, Studies in Higher Education, 46:11, 2245-2261, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2020.1716322

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8, 69-91.

TweetChat Questions

Q1 – Why is context (of the learner/educator/discipline or institution)  important in the way we design and enact the curriculum?

Q2 –  Personal context: How does your personal context, especially your professional values and experiences, inform your current practice of teaching and/or supporting learners?

Q3 –  Students’ context: How can you find out who your students are and what the students’ context and needs are (for example just before or at the start of your course, session or workshop)?

Q4 –  Institutional context: How do the policies, strategies or initiatives impacting teaching/supporting learning at your institution affect and inform the inclusivity of your learning design?

Q5 –  Discipline context: What are the ‘habits of heart, mind and hand’ typical of your discipline (academic and/or skills)? How have they evolved in recent years?

Q6. In teaching and providing support for learning, (why) should context be king and not content?


Here’s the link to the Wakelet for this chat: https://wke.lt/w/s/Ok0nSX

The Hosts’ Bios 📷

Virna Rossi (@VirnaRossi)

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Virna Rossi

Virna is the course leader of the Post-graduate certificate and MA for Creative Courses within Learning and Teaching at Ravensbourne University London. She is a passionate teacher, with 24 years teaching experience in all educational sectors: Primary, Secondary, College (FE), Adult Education, Higher Education. She has worked in the field of university teacher education for 14 years and finds it very rewarding to assist colleagues in developing their teaching practices. 

Virna’s research interests are around inclusive learning design. She hosts the website www.inclusivelearningdesign.com and is currently co-creating a book on inclusive learning design with over 80 contributors from all the continents, including Nokuthula Vilakati. The book is due to be published by Routledge in Summer 2022. 

Her motto is ‘learn to thrive’.

Nokuthula Vilakati (@NokuthulaVila16)

Photo of Nokuthula Vilakati
Nokuthula Vilakati

Nokuthula is currently undertaking a PhD in Education research with the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, University of Cape Town. Her research focus is on academic staff development for working on curricula for distance and blended learning environments. 

She works for the University of Eswatini, where she has been part of a team undertaking a cross-national research project on rural student transition into higher education. 

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#LTHEchat 228: Inclusive Assessment for Diverse Students. Led by Joanna Tai @DrJoannaT on 2nd March 22, 8pm GMT

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Equity, diversity and inclusion is becoming increasingly important to higher education institutions. There are many initiatives that seek to improve diverse students’ participation, many of which focus on admissions and the transition to studying in a university. Despite this, the success and graduation rates of equity groups has not improved in the same way.

Assessment is likely to be a key factor in students’ success, yet little research has focussed on improving how inclusive assessment is (Tai, Ajjawi & Umarova 2021). While by law, there must be accommodations made (including within assessment) for some equity group students such as students with disabilities, diversity is complex and intersectional in nature, and so it is likely that our current assessment systems are not as fair – or equitable – as they could be.

For example, in Australia there are a range of equity characteristics which universities are required to report upon, however students might report several of these characteristics (Willems 2010). Moreover, there are many reasons why students might not wish to or be able to disclose to the university about their personal situation to gain access to accommodations (Grimes et al 2019). Individual accommodations also become time-consuming and logistically difficult to keep track of as the scale of higher education increases. Focussing on inclusive assessment design and implementation may help to provide a more equitable assessment environment for diverse students.

In 2020 I was fortunate to be awarded a National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education grant to investigate how students with disabilities (SWDs) experienced exams and other high-stakes timed assessment, and what could be done to modify these assessments to improve how inclusive they were. A total of 51 students across two universities contributed their experiences of exams to the project. We then drew on these students’ stories within workshops with academic teams, students, and disability liaison staff to identify targets for improvement or change within specific units (modules) of study.

While students reported difficulties relating to accessing accommodations and being sure that they would be implemented for a particular exam, they also spoke highly of a number of modifications to exams during the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, the shift to online exams and assignments meant that students required fewer physical accommodations since they had access to their own familiar equipment and spaces. Timeframes for exams also expanded, which was helpful for students who had fluctuating symptoms across the course of a day, and also enabled them to time their exams amongst other commitments such as caring or work duties. The redesign of questions to demonstrate understanding rather than recall was also viewed positively.

Thus, refining assessments to account for diverse students’ capabilities from the outset is a potential way forward to improve inclusion. Universal Design for Learning (CAST 2018) is one lens through which some of this work can be done, such as ensuring there are multiple means of communicating assessment requirements, and multiple ways that students can respond to an assessment prompt. In our workshops, while we found that significant changes to exams were not frequently possible straight away, even small changes could make a difference to students’ experiences and perceptions of inclusion.

You can read the full report Reimaging Exams: How do assessment adjustments impact on inclusivity?. One of the key messages to take away from the work is that inclusion in assessment is an ongoing process that involves discussion between many stakeholders – not just students and academics, but also those working within institutional access services, invigilators, and even professional bodies.

So, in this LTHEchat it would be great if we could spark some of these conversations and consider what we are doing well, and what changes – big and small – could improve how inclusive assessment is.

Join Us 🕗

The live tweet-chat will take place via https://twitter.com/LTHEchat on Wednesday 2nd March 2022, 8:00 to 9:00 pm GMT (Melbourne/Sydney time – Thursday 3rd March, 7:00 to 8:00am).

During this time 6 questions will be posed (one every 10 minutes) – everyone is welcome to contribute (as much or as little as they like) or just to read. Conversation is also welcomed at any time post 9:00pm GMT.

TweetChat Questions

  1. At your institution, what types of curriculum-related equity, diversity & inclusion initiatives are there? (are there any that target assessment?)
  2. What types of diversity do you notice day-to-day in your student cohort?
  3. How might equity differ from equality in assessment? What is the impact on assessment validity?
  4. How do you use Universal Design for Learning in your curriculum and assessment design?
  5. What are the biggest challenges you face in trying to modify assessment?
  6. What would your ‘dream’ inclusive assessment look like? Who would you have to convince to implement it?


Here’s the link to the Wakelet: https://wke.lt/w/s/ag41yv

References  📗  

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

Grimes, S., Southgate, E., Scevak, J., & Buchanan, R. (2019). University student perspectives on institutional non-disclosure of disability and learning challenges: reasons for staying invisible. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 23(6), 639–655. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2018.1442507

Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., & Umarova, A. (2021). How do students experience inclusive assessment? A critical review of contemporary literature. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2021.2011441

Willems, J. (2010). The equity raw-score matrix – a multi-dimensional indicator of potential disadvantage in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(6), 603–621. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294361003592058

Joanna Tai’s bio 📷

Joanna Tai is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University. Her research interests include student experiences of learning and assessment from university to the workplace, peer learning, feedback and assessment literacy, developing capacity for evaluative judgement, and research synthesis.

Joanna is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, co-convenor of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Assessment and Measurement SIG, and is Treasurer for the Australian and New Zealand Association for Health Professions Education. Her doctoral work won the Association for Medical Education Europe (AMEE) inaugural PhD prize in 2016. She has a background in medicine and health professions education.

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#LTHEchat 227: ‘To me… To you…’: The Growth of Scholarships of Teaching and Learning for Students and Early Career Professionals. Led by @KiuSum on 16th Feb 22, 8pm GMT

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Grayscale picture of a person holding question mark signboard via PickPik

(NB. ‘To me… To you…’ was a British children’s TV show hosted by The Chuckle Brothers which ran from 1996-1998)

This week’s #LTHEChat 227 follows on the #LTHEChat 216 (see the Wakelet) that was led by Dr David Walker (University of Brighton) and Dr Susan Smith (University of Sussex) on 20th October 2021 on “Breaking Boundaries: career progression and education focussed roles”.

During the chat, colleagues shared their experiences and practices for understanding the term “scholarship” and identified the practical steps for their own scholarship activities. The discussion had much insight and demonstrated the vast scholarship activity of colleagues from different institutions especially on areas that we consider between scholarship, the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and pedagogic research.

SoTL can be described as a tool, a revolution or a framework to transform higher education space in how we view our pedagogical practices (Fanghanel et al, 2016). However, from a learner, and more specifically from a student perspective, the way I view SoTL may not necessarily be similar compared to colleagues who have more extensive SoTL experience in higher education. It is without a doubt that SoTL will not work without the presence of students. My reflection from the previous #LTHEchat 216 got me thinking about the responsibility of delivering successful SoTL. Is it me as a student? OR is it you as the scholar? SoTL provides an opportunity to disrupt the way we think and practice, often prepared to mess with “we’ve always done it like that”. However, it also messes with students’ minds and emotions as they try to adapt to new ways of thinking and learning. SoTL is not to remain dormant, but an active process within higher education to mess and examine how best to be more effective and successful in the 21st century ways of learning and teaching.

In this #LTHEchat, I want us to consider the growth of SoTL for students and early career professionals and their position in this as they try to navigate the system, and not simply be pushed into the deep end when they officially become a staff member within higher education. Finally, let’s consider the following passage from Boyer (1990):

‘We believe the time has come to move beyond the tired old “teaching versus research” debate and give the familiar and honourable term “scholarship” a broader, more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full scope of academic work. Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one’s investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one’s knowledge effectively to students. Specifically, we conclude that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping, functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching.’ (Boyer, 1990)

Join Us 🕗

The live tweet-chat will take place via https://twitter.com/LTHEchat on Wednesday 9th February 2022, 8:00 to 9:00 pm GMT. During this time 6 questions will be posed (one every 10 minutes) – everyone is welcome to contribute (as much or as little as they like) or just to read. Conversation is also welcomed at any time post 9:00pm GMT.

References  📗  

Boyer, E (1990.) Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Fanghanel, J., Pritchard, J., Potter, J., & Wisker, G. (2016). Defining and supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): A sector-wide study. York: HE Academy.

TweetChat Questions

Q1 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning messes with the higher education landscape. In what form do you think it also messes students’ perspectives on their learning?

Q2 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) contributes to teaching excellence involving students. What ethical issues could there be using students in SoTL research?

Q3 Consider the value of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning vs the value of students’ emotions and feelings in higher education. Which is more important, and why?

Q4 Aside from student partnership projects, how can you, as individuals, support students to engage in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as part of their career planning?

Q5 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning could enhance staff career development, but how can this also be relevant to students who might not want to stay in academia?

Q6 Me or you? Scholarship of Teaching and Learning should be embedded into students’ learning experiences in higher education? Discuss


Here’s the Wakelet link to this TweetChat: https://wke.lt/w/s/pCpsp5

Kiu Sum’s Bio 📷

Kiu Sum is a Doctoral Researcher in nutrition at the University of Westminster. Her primary research interest focuses on workplace nutrition and dietary behaviour in healthcare professionals. Kiu is on Twitter @KiuSum and documents her PhD journey on a monthly blog. She is also interested in pedagogy research, having been involved with student partnership projects since her undergraduate degree. She is a Co-Convenor of the Engagement Assessment and the Early Career Researchers Special Interest Groups. To continue her passion or student engagement, she hosts The Education Burrito podcast (Twitter @EdBurritoPod)

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#LTHEchat 226: Educator Social Support and Wellbeing in Social Network Sites. Led by @debbaff on 9th Feb 22, 8pm GMT

Pink blossoms on a tree. Jenny Cvek on Unsplash

Being an educator has always required connecting with others and building relationships to give and receive support.  After all, education is known to be a demanding profession, and a lack of support can be a major reason behind educators leaving the profession (Hobson et al., 2009). It is recognised that there is a positive relationship between well-being, health and social support  (Rathmell, 2012; Batenburg and Das, 2014; Monnot and Beehr, 2014)  however both social support and well-being are complex concepts with many definitions.

 The internet has opened up many different ways that educators can connect and gain social support through their personal learning networks and associated social network sites.   Social Network Sites (SNS) can be defined as ‘web-based services that allow individuals to:

(1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system,
(2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and
(3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.’ (Boyd and Ellison, 2007, p. 211). 

SNS can provide a ‘welcoming and comfortable environment in which teachers can share their teaching-related experiences and concerns’ (Ab Rashid et al 2016, p35). Social support gained through online channels has been shown to contribute to well-being (Chiang, 2016) and there have been calls for further research to examine how peer collaboration can support educator well-being (Falk et al., 2019).  

However, social networking sites can differ in terms of privacy and size, which can have an impact on the interaction amongst contributors and willingness to disclose and share information. Research shows that educators who make use of ‘private’ or ‘closed’ SNS groups to find support and share resources are more likely to facilitate discussion of practices and reflection. However, Kelly and Antonio argue that more ‘study on closed groups within SNS is required to determine if this is the case’ (2016, p. 146) Using SNS in this way can be distinguished in that ‘private’ or ‘closed’ refers to the sense that ‘ one must be approved in some way to be able to join it’  (Kelly, Mercieca and Mercieca, 2021, p. 26). So this could be for example, a private Facebook group, Twitter Direct Messaging group, or WhatsApp group all of which require approval or a specific invitation to join.   

 Furthermore, the COVID19 pandemic over the last two years has reignited the debate around the pressures that educators face in undertaking their roles (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020; Savill-Smith and Scanlan, 2020). Educators face increasing psychological and emotional pressure resulting in additional stress and anxiety and this, in turn, may impact well-being.  It has been globally recognised that the well-being of both staff and students should be a key institutional priority both immediately and in the long term (Cairns et al., 2020).  My PhD Research therefore explores how educators experience social support within social network sites, specifically when used in a private way and focuses on how this impacts on their well-being.  I am particularly interested in the behaviours and practices that help foster a supportive environment for positive wellbeing.

Join Us 🕗 

The live tweet-chat will take place via https://twitter.com/LTHEchat on Wednesday 9th February 2022, 8:00 to 9:00 pm GMT. During this time 6 questions will be posed (one every 10 minutes) – everyone is welcome to contribute (as much or as little as they like) or just to read. Conversation is also welcomed at any time post 9:00pm GMT.

TweetChat Questions

Q1. As an educator, how would you define ‘social support’ and how important is this to you?

Q2. What education related social network sites do you engage in? How and why do you take part?

Q3. What benefits do you think could be gained from connecting with other educators within a private Social Network Site group?

Q4. If you connect with other educators in a closed or private Social Network Site group e.g. Twitter Direct Message, WhatsApp or Facebook group etc, why do you do this?  If not, why not?

Q5. What behaviours and practices do you think can facilitate social support?

Q6. How do you think positive well-being can be fostered in an online setting?

Wakelet 💬 

Here’s the link to the Wakelet: https://wke.lt/w/s/jUpYXO

References  📗  

Ab Rashid, R., A. Rahman, M.F. and Abdul Rahman, S.B. (2016) ‘Teachers’ Engagement in Social Support Process on a Networking Site’, Journal of Nusantara Studies (JONUS), 1(1), p. 34. doi:10.24200/jonus.vol1iss1pp34-45.

Batenburg, A. and Das, E. (2014) ‘An Experimental Study on the Effectiveness of Disclosing Stressful Life Events and Support Messages: When Cognitive Reappraisal Support Decreases Emotional Distress, and Emotional Support Is Like Saying Nothing at All’, PLoS ONE. Edited by D. Houser, 9(12), p. e114169. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114169.

boyd,  danah m. and Ellison, N.B. (2007) ‘Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), pp. 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x.

Cairns, M.R. et al. (2020) ‘COVID-19 and Human Connection: Collaborative Research on Loneliness and Online Worlds from a Socially-Distanced Academy’, Human Organization, 79(4), pp. 281–291. doi:10.17730/1938-3525-79.4.281.

Chiang, I.-P. (2016) ‘How to Create Social Support on Facebook’, International Journal of Electronic Commerce Studies, 7(1), pp. 1–20. doi:10.7903/ijecs.1243.

Falk, D. et al. (2019) ‘Landscape Review: Teacher Well-being in Low Resource, Crisis, and Conflict-affected Settings’.

Hobson, A.J. et al. (2009) ‘Becoming a Teacher Teachers’ Experiences of Initial Teacher Training, Induction and Early Professional Development Final Report’. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3376.3924.

Kelly, N. and Antonio, A. (2016) ‘Teacher peer support in social network sites’, Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, pp. 138–149. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2016.02.007.

Kelly, N., Mercieca, B. and Mercieca, P. (2021) ‘Studying Teachers in Social Network Sites: A Review of Methods. Review of Education. (In Press)’.

Monnot, M.J. and Beehr, T.A. (2014) ‘Subjective well-being at work: Disentangling source effects of stress and support on enthusiasm, contentment, and meaningfulness’, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 85(2), pp. 204–218. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2014.07.005.

Rathmell, J. (2012) A Heuristic Inquiry into the Stress That Home Educators Experience.

Reimers, F.M. and Schleicher, A. (2020) ‘A framework to guide an education response to the COVID19 Pandemic of 2020’.

Savill-Smith, C. and Scanlan, D. (2020) Teacher WellBeing Index 2020. Education Support. Available at: https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/sites/default/files/teacher_wellbeing_index_2020.pdf (Accessed: 8 May 2021).

Debbie Baff’s Bio 📷 

Debbie Baff is a Subject Specialist in Digital Practice (Digital Leadership) at JISC., She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and Certified Online Learning Facilitator and has more than 25 years of experience in Higher Education working across the student and staff experience. She is a PhD Student in E Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University and a proud Open Education Practitioner and Go-Gn Global OER Graduate Network member.  Debbie is on twitter @debbaff and has a blog at debbaff.com. She is also an enthusiastic supporter of Open Digital Badges , an amateur sketchnoter and bitmoji fan  and loves anything pink and sparkly 😊  

Debbie Baff – Photo and Bimoji (@debbaff Social Support)
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#LTHEchat 225: Supporting and Humanising Behavioural Change without Behaviourism – Nudges & Digital Footprints. Led by @ameenalpayne @mart_compton @soapykennedy on 2nd Feb, 8pm GMT

3D rendered cubes in a holographic wave pattern – Nathan Watson via Unsplash

Hosted by an early career researcher, educator and incoming doctoral student (Payne), a disabled, undergraduate psychology student (Kennedy) and senior educator (Compton), our collaborative tweet chat aims to explore how behavioural change in online, higher education can be supported without behaviouristic approaches. Specifically, we will engage in discussion on how nudges and digital footprints may be deployed effectively to empower marginalised students – and the potential pitfalls of such data-driven pedagogy.

When students engage in online learning, they leave behind digital footprints, artefacts that trace their activities such as contributions, page views and communications. Digital learning management systems (LMS) generate data from these footprints that can provide insight into student progress and engagement as it relates to student success. These data are called learner analytics (LAs). LAs encompass the broad data mining, collection, analysis, and sharing/reporting/disseminating of students’ digital footprints. LAs are shaping the role of online instruction and student self-regulated learning by promoting ‘actionable intelligence’ (Bayne et al., 2020, p. 71), allowing instructors to orient students and empowering students to orient themselves. 

The growing adoption and interest in LAs has supported a strategic commitment to transparency regarding key drivers for improved student engagement, retention and success. At the same time, concerns are increasingly voiced around the extent to which students are informed about, supported (or hindered by), and tracked and surveilled as they engage online. It is important to acknowledge that making pedagogical conclusions based on delimited dimensions creates a context for stereotyping and discrimination, and profiling can result in hindering students’ potential and may hurt self-efficacy.

Nudge theory, coined by behaviour economist Richard Thaler, connects persuasion with design principles (Thaler, 2015). A nudge is an approach that focuses not on punishment and reward (behaviourism) but encourages positive choices and decisions – fundamental is understanding the context.

We’d like to share a few assumptions as we engage in this discussion:

  • Academic staff have a responsibility to support our increasingly diverse body of students and need to be open to new tools and techniques such as data generated by our students’ digital footprints and opportunities offered by behavioural psychology.
  • Achievement differentials and attainment gaps exist for marginalised students. Disabled students, or students with executive dysfunction, may struggle with skills vital to independent study and content learning e.g., initiation, planning, organisation, etc. For disabled students, a product of being under-served by higher education institutions (HEIs) is that they often demonstrate lower levels of engagement which leads to disproportionate completion rates and, subsequently, employment rates and other outcomes. 
  • Behaviouristic approaches (rewards and sanctions) are at the heart of much of what we still do in education but there have been movements and trends challenging manifestations of this – from banning of corporal punishment in schools to rapid growth in interest in ungrading. 
  • LMS data are not indicators of students’ potential and merit. LAs are not impartial; they are creations of human design. By giving a voice to the data, we’re defining their meaning through our interpretations.

It is valuable to build in periodic or persistent nudges of and toward ‘both the goal and its value’ to empower all students to sustain their efforts (CAST, 2018). We advocate the implementation of nudges as something that can be useful for everyone using an LMS, as compared to a tool aimed directly at disabled students, who may feel singled out. We hold that nudging is less of an evolution of behaviourism but more of a challenge to its ubiquity and all the common assumptions about its effectiveness. We propose the employment of empathy, human connection (in contrast with carrot and stick approaches of education) and understanding to help effect small changes in student’s learning / behaviour through supportive nudges. Nudging, prompted by LAs, is one way to approach improving achievement, narrowing gaps and offering connection and support for all students.

Join Us 🕗

The live tweet-chat will take place via https://twitter.com/LTHEchat on Wednesday 2nd February 2022, 8:00 to 9:00 pm GMT. During this time 6 questions will be posed (one every 10 minutes) – everyone is welcome to contribute (as much or as little as they like) or just to read. Conversation is also welcomed at any time post 9:00pm GMT. A compilation Wakelet capturing the conversations is below.


Q1 If nudging students is less about coercive practises (punishments and rewards) and more about soft, small-step connections towards positive change, what examples can you offer from practice?

Q2 What role does/could learning analytics play in shaping our in-course interactions with students, particularly those from marginalised groups? 

Q3 Learning analytics (LAs) risks profiling students and driving inequality. How might we address these weaknesses (such as the cognitive biases we may bring to its interpretation and/or some students being advantaged by extra guidance)?

Q4 What role might nudging and/or learning analytics play in personalising/adaptive learning?

Q5 Regarding the complex issues in the nexus of student agency & subjectivity, privacy, consent, & vulnerability, how might we differentiate between learning analytics & surveillance in online HE?

Q6 Can nudges assist students in overcoming ‘learned helplessness’? If so, how might nudges support students in taking control of their educational experiences?


Here’s the link to the Wakelet of this TweetChat: https://wke.lt/w/s/bZ3xuW

References and Further Reading 📗 

Bayne, S., Evans, P., Ewins, R., Knox, J., Lamb, J., Mcleod, H., et al. (2020). The Manifesto for Teaching Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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

Commissioner for Fair Access. (2019). Disabled students at university: discussion paper. Scottish Government. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/commissioner-fair-access-discussion-paper-disabled-students-university/

Gašević, D., Dawson, S., & Siemens, G. (2015). Let’s not forget: Learning analytics are about learning. TechTrends, 59(1), 64-71. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11528-014-0822-x.pdf 

Lim, L. A., Gentili, S., Pardo, A., Kovanović, V., Whitelock-Wainwright, A., Gašević, D., & Dawson, S. (2021). What changes, and for whom? A study of the impact of learning analytics-based process feedback in a large course. Learning and Instruction, 72, 101202.

Payne, A. L., Compton, M. & Kennedy, S. (In Progress). ‘Supporting and humanising behavioural change without the behaviorism: nudges and digital footprints.’ Human Data Interaction, Disadvantage and Skills in the Community: Enabling Cross-Sector Environments For Postdigital Inclusion. Springer.

Prinsloo, P. (2016). “Decolonising the Collection, Analyses and Use of Student Data: A Tentative Exploration/Proposal.” Open Distance Teaching and Learning (blog). https://opendistanceteachingandlearning.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/decolonising-the-collection-analyses-and-use-of-student-data-a-tentative-explorationproposal/.

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S.(2015). Student privacy self-management: implications for learning analytics. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Learning Analytics And Knowledge (LAK ’15). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 83–92. https://doi.org/10.1145/2723576.2723585

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2016). Student Vulnerability, Agency and Learning Analytics: An Exploration. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(1), 159–182. https://doi.org/10.18608/jla.2016.31.10

Roberts, L. D., Howell, J. A., Seaman, K., & Gibson, D. C. (2016). Student Attitudes toward Learning Analytics in Higher Education: “The Fitbit Version of the Learning World”. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1959. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01959

Thaler, R. (2015). The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad. The New York Times. Available at: https://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/-/media/faculty/richard-thaler/assets/files/goodandbad.pdf

Weijers, R.J., de Koning, B.B. & Paas, F. Nudging in education: from theory towards guidelines for successful implementation. Eur J Psychol Educ 36, 883–902 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-020-00495-0 

Your #LTHEchat 225 Hosts Profiles 📷 

Ameena Payne

Ameena Payne works as an educator in the social sciences and business. She has earned a Master of Education, Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (Higher Education), Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment. She is a Fellow of Advance Higher Education Academy (AdvanceHE) and the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA).

Dr Martin Compton

Martin Compton is an Associate Professor working in the Arena Centre for Research-Based Education at University College London. He worked for many years on access programmes in further education colleges, teaching History and English amongst many other things, some of which he still finds barely credible. For the last 20 years or so he has worked primarily in teacher and academic development including 5 years running an online PGCert HE. His current remit includes a specific digital education brief but prior to this his relationship with technology was very much one of an inquisitive innovating and experimenting practitioner. His research interests and publications include overt consideration of the affordances of and impediments to successful digital education as well as tangential investigations in the contexts of transnational education and the observation of teaching and learning.

Sophie Kennedy

Sophie Kennedy is a Scottish student working towards a BSc (Hons) in Psychology & Counselling. She also works as a student consultant for Abertay University’s Learning Enhancement Academy and was elected the Abertay Student Association’s Disability Officer from 20-21. Her research interests include improving the accessibility of education for disabled and neurodivergent students and researching alternative definitions of student success. 

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#LTHEchat 224: Flexibility in Practice. Led by @n_a_gordon on 19th Jan, 8 pm GMT

Photo by SIMON LEE on Unsplash A series of blue waves with lines. Waves of varying lengths and height

Flexible Pedagogy (the focus of my 2014 report for AdvanceHE) sounds great in theory – but can be challenging in practice. Every choice in learning could require a new resource, and every choice in assessment needs a different activity and may require different marking criteria. Managing flexibility at scale – with medium to large classes – becomes a challenge for staff, and too much choice may mean learners struggle to decide what to do, and end up doing nothing. Here we explore some of the issues in how we can deliver flexibility in a pragmatic but useful way.

Flexible Pedagogy encapsulates the idea of giving students choice in the pace, place and mode of learning. Whilst the level of flexibility has varied for many years, with limited choice for many, this shifted in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a swift change in delivery methods for huge numbers of instructors  across the world, with lockdowns and guidance on social distancing meaning that campus based face to face teaching switched to entirely online learning, with a range of flexibility given the amount of recorded and remote teaching, along with adapted and novel assessment methods.

Typical models of face-to-face campus based learning tend to be quite rigid – with timetables and locations driving the activity of staff and students.  Blended learning can offer some elements of flexibility, at least for some aspects of a course. Thus students may be able to watch some module materials, take part in some activities, and even carry out assessment in their own time and place of choosing. The switch to purely online learning during the pandemic meant that many institutions faced the challenge of offering more flexible learning and assessment, with little time to plan and prepare (Gordon, 2021). This also created new questions about the best way to deliver, where timetabled online sessions allow for choice in where to study, but not when. Whilst recorded material can offer choice in when and where to study, it can lead to students not studying at all!

For practitioners, flexibility for learners creates new challenges – as each choice can double the workload in terms of preparation and delivery, and can increase the assessment burden. Thus offering flexibility needs to be considered in terms of how that is resourced, and can be a catalyst to review and revise what is actually taught, and how it is assessed. Identifying flexible and scalable teaching approaches is a challenge – one for which there is no silver bullet. Technology can aid – with adaptive learning, automating aspects of assessment and offering new flexible forms of assessment – though these can require a lot of preparation and development time. 

One benefit of technology solutions to supporting flexible learning is the opportunity to gamify aspects of learning (Gordon et al, 2013), and to acknowledge that for many students, assessment is the trigger to their work and can thus be used to direct and guide them in what to do (Gordon, 2010). Assessment that is flexible does create its own unique problems. Allowing students to take assessment at different times and in different places raises questions about fairness and robustness of process. Alternatives to more traditional exams can include question banks, where students get unique “exam papers”: though that raises the challenge of ensuring there is sufficient equivalence between these, as well as the additional challenge of the increased marking time if it requires human checking, since the typical patterns of incorrect answers are not available! Offering different forms of assessment – such as individual versus team, or essay versus exam versus presentation – creates the same twin issues of equity and marking time and process.

So flexibility is a great principle, and as practitioners we should consider how far we can deliver it, and identify what tools and approaches we can use to make it viable in practice. For most, a mix of fixed and flexible teaching and assessment is likely to be the best we can manage – though in 2022 with the continuing challenge of Coronavirus we all need to be flexible in practice!


Gordon, N.A. (2021) A permanent Pivot to online learning, or will universities bounce back to normal. Academia Letters, p.2.

Gordon, N. A. (2016) Flexible Learning in Computer Science. New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, 11(1).

Gordon N.A. (2014) Flexible Pedagogies: technology-enhanced learning. The Higher Education Academy. DOI:10.13140/2.1.2052.5760

Gordon, N., Brayshaw, M. and Grey, S. (2013) Maximising gain for minimal pain: Utilising natural game mechanics. Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 12(1), pp.27-38.

Gordon, N.A. (2010) Enabling personalised learning through formative and summative assessment. In Technology-supported environments for personalized learning: Methods and case studies (pp. 268-284). IGI Global.

Neil Gordon


Neil Gordon is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Hull in England. Neil is a National Teaching Fellow, and a Principal Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. He has produced a number of reports for AdvanceHE on developments in Higher Education, including the way that computer technology can enable flexible learning, the role of assessment in education, and ways to address issues in retention and attainment in computing education. His awards include University Teaching Fellowships and awards for scholarship in teaching and learning. Neil’s research interests include applications of computer science to enable true technology enhanced learning, issues around sustainable development, as well as more discipline specific work on applications of computer algebra and formal methods. He has published over 50 journal articles, a similar number of refereed conference proceedings, and a variety of book chapters, reports and other publications.


Q1 How flexible should we be in teaching, learning and assessment?

Q2 Has pandemic online learning made things more or less flexible?

Q3 Is flexibility for students flexible for staff?

Q4 Does flexible pedagogy lead to inequity?

Q5 When is inflexible pedagogic practice acceptable?

Q6 What’s next for flexible learning?



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#LTHEchat 223: A time for mindful academic practices? Led by @sd_elkington on 12th Jan, 8pm GMT

Photo taken by Alfred Schrock via Unsplash – A perfectly shaped water lily floated happily in a pond at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was early morning and still had drops of morning dew on its leaves,

As we begin the new year, we are faced with the prospect of continued uncertainty, anxiety, and a sector in a state of flux. In many ways, the pandemic has been a focusing event for Higher Education, compelling universities to rethink how the significant resources devoted to learning, teaching, and assessment might be reconfigured (even reimagined) to better support student learning across different modes of delivery. Indeed, the proliferation of digital learning technologies accompanying this movement has meant that we as educators have had to adapt to the demands of changing patterns of work and student learning, with the enactment of academic practice occurring across a multitude of different, inter-connected, digital, and physical environments. There is no doubt that many (if not most) students and staff would prefer certain aspects of university learning, teaching, and assessment to be different to what they are currently experiencing. But this begs the question of what kind of learning should be assumed in and through our teaching and assessments for such an uncertain and changeable environment? 

We might answer that students need to be able to plan, set goals, establish priorities, as well as move seamlessly back and forth between often disparate (physical and virtual) tasks and settings. Afterall, students need to be able to think about the meaning of new forms of information and connect it to what they already know. They will need to retain meaningful information and be able to access it during tasks, often long after the initial act of learning has taken place. Students need to be able to explore interconnections between and extend their grasp of different perspectives on their learning. Furthermore, they will need to find meaning in these interconnections and perspectives, cultivating, and articulating new insights and practices. 

Learning, when conceived in this way, is revealed to be inherently complex, dynamic, multi-faceted, and influenced to a large extent by the context(s) in which it takes place. And yet, our collective attention when it comes to teaching and assessment tends to be on educational effectiveness and efficiency rather than on the extent to which our approaches and strategies of choice support diverse, sustainable, and intentional ways of knowing that honour and empower learner experience and development, as well as minimise the negative consequences of stress and anxiety for our students. 

It could be argued that what we teach has become less important than how we teach it. In times of increasing stress and anxiety, established practice mindsets we hold regarding learning and teaching can work against us, encouraging a quiet mindlessness, unhelpful during times of heightened uncertainty. When we act mindlessly, we act as if on autopilot, pre-programmed to act according to the practice behaviours we made sense of in the past, rather than recognising and responding to their tensions with the present. In seeking certainty and security, we tend to reach for those things – those practiced routines and interventions – we believe we know well and tend to view such situations mindlessly as a consequence. In contrast, Langer (2016) has advocated for educators to create opportunities for ‘mindful learning’. Mindful learning is a confluence of a flexible state of mind in which individuals are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and are sensitive to context. When we act mindlessly, our behaviour is rule and routine governed. When we are mindful, rules and routines may help to guide our behaviours but do not predetermine them (Zajonc, 2013). Research shows us that mindful learning can increase competent practice, memory, creativity, and positive affect – as well as decrease stress and anxiety (see Bassarear et al., 2015; Schwind et al., 2017). 

For Langer, being mindful in learning is the simple act of drawing novel distinctions. Providing educational experiences that encourage and sustain contrasting perspectives, requiring a focused attention and open awareness to context and others strengthens, extends, and refines the capacity for mindful learning by way of reinforcing or challenging learners’ expectations about how things are supposed to be. To seek to develop mindful learning is to seek a greater sense of authorship, authenticity, and creativity in day-to-day working practices – characterised by a willingness to engage, to have a go, and learn; a preparedness to listen, explore and an openness to new experiences and perspectives. 

It is generally understood that the expectations of HE places great demands on student performance, often leading them to experience stress and anxiety, with negative consequences for their academic success and personal wellbeing. In many cases, the competing demands of learning and teaching during the pandemic have compounded such negativity (for students and staff). Mindful learning both requires and embraces a more encompassing and flexible view of student learning development; one that attends to a number of affective self-regulatory elements that ought to be considered at the point of design – namely: 

– student sensitivity to context and new perspectives, 
– intentionality of attention, 
– managing personal responses to tasks and feedback, and 
– the willingness to think and do differently in the face of uncertain outcomes. 

If it is through the curriculum, that we are to empower our students and graduates to develop the self-awareness and wide-ranging qualities and behaviours to prepare for and thrive in whatever comes next for them; the ability to think, work, and learn mindfully is surely crucial in preparing our students for increasingly uncertain future professional lives. But what forms might such a mindful curriculum take? 


Bassarear, T., Byrnes, K., Cherkowski, S., Hanson, K., Kelly, J., Latta, M. M., & Soloway, G. (2015). Mindful teaching and learning: developing a pedagogy of well-being. Lexington Books.

Langer, E. J. (2016). The power of mindful learning. Hachette UK.

Schwind, J. K., McCay, E., Beanlands, H., Martin, L. S., Martin, J., & Binder, M. (2017). Mindfulness practice as a teaching-learning strategy in higher education: A qualitative exploratory pilot study. Nurse education today50, 92-96. [Online] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0260691716303197

Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: A quiet revolution in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 134, 83-94.


Sam Elkington

Dr. Sam Elkington (Principal Lecturer, Learning and Teaching Excellence) Teesside University, UK

Sam Elkington joined Teesside University in September 2018 where he leads on the University’s learning and teaching enhancement portfolio. Sam is a National Teaching Fellow (2021) and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (PFHEA) and has worked in Higher Education for over 15 years with extensive experience working across teaching, research and academic leadership and policy domains. Most recently Sam worked for Advance HE (formerly the Higher Education Academy) where he was national lead for Assessment and Feedback and Flexible Learning in Higher Education. Sam maintains a diverse range of research interests with a track record in developing high impact pedagogic research work in the areas of assessment and feedback, student engagement, learning spaces, and creativity in higher education. Sam’s latest book (Irons and Elkington, 2021) showcases the latest thinking in Enhancing Student Learning through Formative Assessment and Feedback. 

Mindful Academic Practices 6 Questions 💬

1) What does mindful learning mean to you? And who stands to benefit?

2) What kinds of pedagogic practices and environments are best suited to nurturing mindful learning?

3) How is mindful learning supported and/or constrained by our institutions?

4) To what extent are our most established forms of assessment representative of mindless assessment design?

5) How could the technologies we use in our teaching practices be utilised to support mindful learning in students?

6) How can mindful learning be more present and more fully part of your work with students and colleagues?

Wakelet of #LTHEchat 223 🌐 

Read: wke.lt/w/s/wCTcKs

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Festive greetings, thankyous, and a welcome to the incoming #LTHEchat organising team

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our current organising team. Thank you Suzanne Faulkner for being an excellent mentor and to Danielle Hinton and Sandra Huskinson for all your hard work behind the scenes. You have all been wonderful.

In January we will welcome our new incoming team. Danielle Hinton will step up to mentor Dr Jonny Johnston and Louise Rees.

If you wish to become a member of a future organising team we would love to hear from you. Please complete this short form to let us know.

As the year draws to a close we would also like to thank all members of the organising teams, AdvanceHE who organise the collaborative chat on the last Wednesday of each month and all #LTHEchat guests and the community for your ongoing support and lively engagement.

We look forward to new chats in 2022 and would welcome volunteers to be guests and also suggestions for new topics you would be interested in exploring.

We wish you all a special festive season and a healthy and happy New Year. 

The #LTHEchat steering group

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#LTHEchat 222: The Gratitude Christmas Special. Led by: @hintondm @FieryRed1 and @SFaulknerPandO

Photo by Jill Wellington via Pixabay

Firstly Danielle, Sandra and Suzanne would like to say what a pleasure it has been to serve the brilliant #LTHEChat community as the organizing team for this term under the ever helpful watchful eye of the brilliant Sue Beckingham, @suebecks. This was very much a whole team effort, thank you! 

The #LTHEchat would not exist without the fantastic input from all of those who agree to host a session and of course the brilliant community who return week after week to share their knowledge and experiences openly and honestly. This community welcomes everyone with open arms and for that we are most grateful. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed taking part as much as we have. 

The focus of the #LTHEChat this week is gratitude. There is no doubt that the last 18-20 months have been filled with challenges, and for many of us, sad losses. We have all had our struggles to face in the last 18-20 months. 

In this chat we would like to end the year on a high, whilst acknowledging  the most difficult time we have all had. This week we will focus on what and who has helped you through this difficult time. Let’s end 2021 with gratitude. 

We want to contribute to a ‘tool box’ cookbook of ideas to help support us going forward into 2022.


Danielle M. Hinton @hintondm e-mail: d.m.hinton@bham.ac.uk

Danielle Hinton (SFHEA) 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, supports HEA Fellowship scheme, enhancement projects and CPD. She is particularly interested in active learning, the emotions of learning and teaching, enhancement of learning through technologies, distance learning and serious play in Higher Education. 


Image of host Danielle Hinton.

Sandra Huskinson @FieryRed1   e-mail: sandrahuskinson@yahoo.co.uk 

Bio: Building on a background in art and interface design Sandra is an experienced educational consultant. Working for a variety of institutions over a number of years she has designed and developed a range courses, CPD developments for online and classroom based programs. 


Image of host Sandra Huskinson.

Suzanne Faulkner @SFaulknnerPandO     e-mail: suzanne.faulkner@strath.ac.uk

Bio: Suzanne Faulkner is a teaching fellow in Prosthetics and Orthotics, within the department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, she is also a facilitator trained in the LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) methodology. Suzanne is passionate about enhancing the student experience by focusing on improving student engagement, utilising social media in learning and teaching and incorporating playful learning. She has been nominated and shortlisted for several teaching excellence awards and is currently undertaking an EdD at the University of Strathclyde with a view to exploring the use of LSP to enhance participation of non-native speakers of English in group work activities. 


Image of host Suzanne Faulkner.

Q1. What app or tool have you discovered in the last 18-20 months that have enhanced your working life either with colleagues or students?

Q2. What article/book/podcast has made the most profound impact on your teaching and supporting learning practice over the last 18-20 months and why?

Q3. Thank a hero (colleague, student, icon etc) that has made a big impact on your teaching and supporting learning practice over the last 18-20 months 

Q4. What online fun interactive activity have you added to your work/life repertoire in the last 20 months?

Q5. The last few months have been a challenge to our networking abilities. What methods have you utilised to remain connected with people and connect with new people?

Q6. What non-work related must read book/film would you recommend over the Christmas break?

Q7. Bonus: Be a Star and grab a handful of LEGO bricks (or online), build a star decoration, share photo & tag #BuildToGive #LTHEchat @LEGO_Group will donate a set to children in need

https://wke.lt/w/s/Dr1oIV via Wakelet 

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#LTHEchat 221: Student Unions’, the Student Experience and the University. Led by Colina Wright @colina_wright

Naassom Azevedo via Unsplash

Please note that the use of the term Students’ Union within this discussion is intended to cover Student Associations and Student Guilds. 

I love working within Students’ Unions (SU’s), having done so since graduating over 20 years ago. I got involved in my SU when, as I approached Christmas in my second year, I had to rethink whether university was right for me. I was a young black female, the first in my family to attend university but fortunately supported by the fact attending university was the norm within my (white) stepfather’s history. I struggled with a lack of understanding with regards to what university was. This was before the discussions about BAME attainment gaps, the language didn’t exist and if it did, it would actively have been discouraged from broader conversation, through fear of institutions being perceived as racist organisations. 

It was my engagement with a volunteering project, led by the SU with young girls from an underprivileged area of the city, that got me through my university experience. My SU introduced me to the widening participation agenda and the empowerment of young people – both students and those projects set out to help them – and created a desire in me to pursue a career whereby I could have a positive impact on the community. And so my journey began…

Sadly SU’s are increasingly coming under fire for stereotypical behaviours: initiations and anti-social behaviour demonstrated by some sports teams, encouraging or preventing freedom of expression within societies and unfortunately, not for the positive contributions they make within their respective cities/towns. These positive contributions include, but are not limited to: contributing to the local economy, raising money for charities, numerous volunteering projects with local citizens or generally providing developmental opportunities for university students.

I believe there is something truly unique about the opportunities SU’s present and the difference they can make to students and the community; they have the ability to genuinely be life-changing in addition to contributing positively to university recruitment and retention. They exist to enhance the student experience but can often be perceived within the university context as parasitic, rather than symbiotic relationship. 

This tweet chat aims to explore:

  • The relationships academic and professional services staff may and could have with SU’s 
  • What  SU’s can do to ensure that we work together to achieve our collective mission, that is, to enhance the student experience and create leaders of the future. 

Further Reading

Amirianzadeh, M., Jaafari, P., Ghourchian, N. and Jowkar, B., (2011) Role of student associations in leadership development of engineering students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 30, pp.382-385. https://pdf.sciencedirectassets.com/277811/1-s2.0-S1877042811X0023X/1-s2.0-S1877042811019008/main.pdf 

Atilade, T. and Wickremasinghe, R. (2021) Where are the black squares now? WonkHE 9/7/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/where-are-the-black-squares-now/

Blake, S. and Roberts, L. (2021) Is partnership possible in a pandemic?, WonkHE 24/9/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/is-partnership-possible-in-a-pandemic/ 

Dickinson, J. (2021) What on earth is student representation for? WonkHE 1/6/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/what-on-earth-is-student-representation-for/ 

O’Donnell, P. Brabner, R. and Dickinson, J. (2021) Students will build back community better – if we support them to do so, WonkHE 11/6/21, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/what-have-students-ever-done-for-the-community/ 

Phipps, C., (2020) “We already do enough around equality and diversity”: Action taken by student union officers to promote LGBT+ inclusion in university sport. Sociology of Sport Journal, 37(4), pp.310-318.


Colina Wright

Colina Wright @colina_wright is currently the CEO of the University of Sunderland Students’ Union and will become the CEO at the Union of Students, Derby, in the new year. She has a strong background in membership engagement following other experience gained at De Montfort University, Sheffield Hallam and New College Nottingham. Her experience within both FE and HE Students’ Unions’ followed her own experience of being an Elected Officer at Sheffield Hallam University (Multicultural and International Students’ Officer) and her passion for student voice, inclusive practice and the power of Students’ Union to create real impact and change has continued to characterise her career to date. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from De Montfort University and an BA (Hons.) in Communication Studies from Sheffield Hallam University. She has served as a Trustee for Buckinghamshire New University SU and Wearside Women in Need.

Q1. What do you consider to be the role of the Students’ Union in the student experience?

Q2. From your experience what are the main issues and/or successes of your student representation system? How do you think this can be enhanced?

Q3. Excluding the Student Rep system, to what extent have you worked together with students/ the student voice to contribute to the overall learning experience and with what outcome?

Q4. The Students’ Union can be an effective mechanism to support internal / external student barometers (eg NSS). What does the Student Union involvement within your institution look like and how do you think it could work more effectively?

Q5. Are there (or have there been) collaborative opportunities/ student led projects within your area of work that can either benefit from (or have benefited) from student engagement? How has this made a difference to the learning environment?

Q6. How can you work more effectively with your Student Union to ensure your students take advantage of leadership and developmental opportunities and enhance students’ employability?

https://wke.lt/w/s/9m422Y via Wakelet 

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