Monthly Archives: July 2020


Reproduced with permission….This #Take5 post if brought to you by Carina Buckley, Debbie Holley and Sandra Sinfield. It is their take on a conversation held at Solent – and digitally across the nation – focussing on the possibilities of teaching academic literacies online. The authors have re-visited their initial recollections, to bring the discussion more up to date in a world of Covid.

The Webinar took the form of a ‘blended’ Panel discussion, with three panel members sitting with Carina at Solent and two joining online – and with ALDinHE colleagues around the country following the discussion live online and contributing via Twitter.

Panel members: Dr Carina Buckley (chair ); student panel member Anna Latchman (Solent); Catherine Turton (Solent) were joined in person by Dr Erika Corradini (Southampton University); and online guests were Prof Debbie Holley (Bournemouth University) and Sandra Sinfield, (London Metropolitan University).

@evildrb aka Dr Carina Buckley

Who would have thought!

In December last year, we were debating about moving the teaching of academic and digital literacies online, and who could have guessed what would happen three months later! Our initial conversations were framed around models of teaching these literacies. For Debbie, they are a way to support, develop and create spaces for students throughout the whole of their academic journey. She and Sandra both agreed that it wasn’t about ‘fixing’ a student, but rather celebrating their diversity and making transparent the forms and processes of academia, and discovering ways to enable students to act powerfully in academic spaces, face-to-face (F2F) or online.

Students, social networks and spaces to learn

Having space is important. Students can learn online, offline, and in the spaces in between. We can join students in a shared space and work alongside them; and we can help students occupy their space in academia powerfully and on their own terms, agents in their own learning. This can work online as well as in person, as Debbie and Sandra demonstrated through a project embedded in a suite of computing modules where ‘skills’ were not to be delivered as if to repair supposedly deficient students. Instead, learning development worked together with the computing lecturers to design a course of sufficient challenge and intrigue that it would stretch the students, developing digital and academic literacies in the process.

The ‘History of the World in a Hundred Objects’ challenge took place in real life (IRL) in F2F classrooms, computer suites and the British Museum – and in the virtual world of Second Life (SL). The project was difficult, creative and exciting, with students researching IRL and then building artefacts based on their research in SL – and presenting on their findings either IRL or SL – and in writing. The multiple challenges prompted the students to reach out for the skills they needed to be successful in the task in contextualised and seamless ways. Moreover, when they created their own augmented, immersive learning spaces in SL, these were much more fluid and creative than the typical lecture theatre (see picture).

the shipwreck
Article: read it here: The Shipwrecked Shore – and other metaphors: what we can learn from occupation of – and representations in – virtual worlds

Make it so?

However, the speed with which we have all been expected to ‘pivot’ to online teaching and learning, means that many practitioners do not have the luxury of developing an intriguing, cooperative project. Instead, they are faced with quick changes to online delivery of ‘skills’ – often in isolation – and on poor tech or connectivity.

So provocative questions emerge as we think about delivering academic literacies online: how can we as educators, facilitators and developers, acknowledge the skills and aptitudes with which students arrive in our virtual spaces, so that we create opportunities for growth? How do we build in opportunities for social connection in these spaces, when we are all so worried about delivering sufficient content? Can we join students in their spaces as well as our own, so that power is shared more equitably between staff and students in these most challenging of times? If you have examples of your excellent practice during this time of #Covid – please get in touch about producing a #Take5 blog of your own! Meanwhile – here’s a summary of what emerged from our Panel discussion.

On ‘becoming’ … academic

Learning is often presented as an individual and even competitive pursuit, and a wholesale switch to online can exacerbate this perception. Arguably then it is even more important to develop collaborative working practices when developing literacies and learning online.

Tip: A good place to start for new students’ online start, will be to facilitate the forming friendships alongside their reading and study groups; fostering well being as they relate to each other as human beings, as well as learning how to work cooperatively together.

Working together – and academic identity. Dr Erika Corradini, from the University of Southampton, likened the development of an academic identity to a journey: you learn how to become academic and an academic, over time and through the range of practices that you engage in in your studies and develop competencies that might only be recognised at the end of that journey. Part of that, becoming, as Catherine Turton from Solent University added, is developing your linguistic, discursive knowledge of your subject and of course, whether operating F2F or online, academic literacies come into that. The big question here might be, how do we draw discipline academics – and students – into this conversation about competences, without it being reduced to a reductive conversation, say, about employability for example? How do we work together with discipline academics to embrace the challenge of developing emancipatory practice when teaching their students?

Voice is more than syntax: We want to help students leave their degrees as professionals in their field; voice and identity are important to us but often overlooked in student work at the expense of grammar, spelling and punctuation for example. Working with our colleagues is vital if we want to promote real discussion between discipline academics and learning developers about the nature of academic voice and its role in inviting us to participate meaningfully in our various academic and epistemic communities.

Voice and academic identities: Erika gave the example of a project she carried out with Dr Marion Heron at the University of Surrey, which studied the writing identity of staff. They found that often staff weren’t aware that they wrote in different ways for different audiences, nor were they aware of the implications this had for changes in their own academic identity. Making staff aware of this, revealed the social processes that create academic identities. Having discussions like these with discipline staff can reveal how important it is to develop voice – and this can initiate conversations with students about their academic identities that move way beyond a reductive focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar.

‘Skills’ development as organic parts of the curriculum: However, when it came to supporting academic literacies online, Erika was doubtful about the level of engagement possible, for overworked staff and pressurised students. Ideally, this development should be an organic part of the curriculum, so awareness is the main thing. In her experience, Catharine said, online resources work best when staff understand what’s available and choose and curate what’s most relevant for their particular students, and use them as part of the teaching, learning and assessment process, rather than have ‘study and digital skills’ resources as another place for students to go, another set of decontextualised tasks and checklists to complete.

Play with the tech: Debbie’s focus was also on the staff, and encouraging them to take an interest in the holistic development of their students, and to have the courage to experiment with good blended learning. Improved learner analytics in the future will increase our ability to help students personalise their learning journeys, and that can only be a good thing.

Creative challenge: Sandra wanted us to set creative challenges that provoked curiosity and engagement, setting students off on their own journey, on their own terms. She gave an example of the ‘Digital Me’ assignment she set where students were asked to produce a multimodal artefact – using a tool of their own choosing – creating a ‘something’ that introduced them to their new friends and colleagues – and where their work was not presented at a dull assessment point, but shared in an Exhibition – with party. Their own engagement with this authentic challenge supported students in discovering the digital environment for themselves in a way that made them feel successful and celebrated. The joy the students experienced when presenting their work underscored this. Anna’s experience with her dissertation chimed with that, as she valued being given the opportunity to explore an academic topic which first piqued her interest and then propelled her forward to investigate deeper.

Sandra in second life

And so: After a long discussion, we came to the inevitable conclusion that neither digital nor academic literacies can be contained; they involve staff development, student development, learning development, engagement, community, relationship-building, in fact the whole culture of the university. The key to academic literacies’ development, then, is partnership: between staff and students, and between literacies and subject. When writing becomes a topic of conversation within the discipline, then students become aware of it – not before. It comes down to community and connection, and knowing what everybody can offer and bring to the table.

And now we are all teaching online?

Celebrating students, and what they bring; empowering students; thinking about lifelong learning; communities of practice across the university, bringing together learning developers, academics, librarians, technicians and working to co-create space for students to explore…

Our conclusion was that academic literacies is about having a space for students to explore, personalised so they can find the relevance to their life beyond university, and staff need to be there with them, emphasising openness in communication and sharing. And learning development is going to lead the way!

Dr Debbie – in Real Life

Carina Buckley (@EvilDoctorB) Sandra Sinfield (@Danceswithclouds) and Debbie Holley (@debbieholley1) are all members of the ALDinHE Steering Group. Find out more about ALDinHE.

Suggested resources:

#DS106 – digital storytelling ideas and resources to ignite a fire in the minds of students – and staff: https://ds106.us/

Dr Debbie’s Blog: http://drdebbieholley.com/blog/

Learnhigher is a network for promoting and facilitating the development and dissemination of high quality, peer-reviewed resources for learning development in the higher education sector

Studychat – our educational magazine for staff and PhD students: https://www.facebook.com/LondonMetStudyChat/

Shaping academic practice for the new decade


The (virtual) 18th Academic Practice and Technology Conference (#aptconf) 

12 presentation rooms, two keynotes and an amazing ‘high fidelity’ site for networking – well done to UCLs Simon Walker and Sandra Lusk leading the way with the virtual MSTeams conference. 

Networking space

The team used MSLive Events for the keynotes, and Dr Gideon Shimison launched the event with his keynote ‘The Brave New University’ reflecting on what has really changed since the 1950s model of learning depicted in the cartoon. He outlined the ‘VUCA’ realities of today (Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity an Complexity), suggesting a Cyber-Physcial model of learning where on site communities moved through stages of learn; master; communicate to a model of online open community. The Brave New University needs to move beyond the model to innovation and mixed realities, multi-modal interaction, mixed social networks. Spaced repetition and exams and from traditional programming of courses to mixed and adapting, with a truly student-centred focus.

The 1950s – have times really changed?

Our session, ‘A humanising response to scaling at speed’ (Debbie Holley, Ian Donaldson and John Moran) explored the work the Department of Nursing Sciences undertook to scale at speed as third year Nursing Students prepared to undertake their final six months In practice, called up by the NHS to work to support the Covid-19pandemic. Drawing upon the work of Len Vygotsky, we scaffolded support using technology as the proxy for the ‘more capable peer’ (Cook 2010) . This body of work reflects the humanising value-set and community of practice approaches that underpin the whole of the Nursing Curriculum. We co-produced a ‘Corona Virus Teachinar’ Unit to host podcasts, tech chat show recordings, guest slots from experts, and created a ‘Digital Nurse’ Talis Aspire reading list to model the importance of exemplary online reading lists to complement moving our practices online.  

Link theory to practice

Next, Sandra Lusk presented the UCL work on students experiences of the pandemic, emphasising the key need to ensure access to the online – we all echoed the examples shared of students, and staff, disadvantaged due to unreliable technology, lack of study space, poor internet access, and good learning design, thought through to meet the need of all is essential moving forward. 

Sandra Lusk and the student experience

Allison Littlejohn and Eileen Kennedy then presented on ‘The Challenges and Opportunities of the Rapid Move to Online teaching in Response to Covid-19′, once again highlighting inequalities, gender issues and the over reliance on live video conference platforms making teaching difficult and stressful with limited student engagement. Their recommendations:    

Five key conclusions and recommendations from their research: 

1. Support for online teaching and learning in the new academic year should focus on learning design that shifts the emphasis away from tutor presentation via video (Zoom etc) 

2. Pedagogical support should be provided for ways of synchronous interaction and engagement with students 

3. Learning design support should be provided for asynchronous student discussion and collaborative activity 

4. Online short and flexible ie Just in Time professional development should be provided to allow tutors to gain first-hand experience of learning design and the use of tools to engage students 

5. Ensure staff have sufficient time to develop their courses since development for online learning and teaching is heavily front loaded 

The image is a woman who feels the ‘shiny tech thing’ held high is the institutional priority across the sector

The always welcome JISC session saw Sarah Knight and Clare Killen discussed digital onboarding issues, and highlighted the importance of a joined up institutional approach. The guide to the JISC toolkit: supporting the digital experience of new students is essential reading for institutional, courses leaders as well as individual tutors designing their learning for the autumn and individuals preparing their units. 

Clearly this is just a snapshot of sessions I was able to attend. The whole conference has been recorded and all sessions will be available from the conference website in due course. Link:  https://aptconference.org.uk/index.php/apt/apt2020