30 aspects of learning and teaching that can be enhanced with technology

In preparation for some design thinking workshops, I have compiled a list of good reasons that people give for changing practice (often through the application of technology). My aim is to illustrate the breadth of the tweaks that we can make. There are of course many more possibilities than are listed here.

  1. Enhance student engagement – physical, emotional, cognitive.
  2. Enhance teacher engagement – physical, emotional, cognitive.
  3. Reduce resource consumption – time, money, materials.
  4. Widen participation in higher education or a specific discipline.
  5. Widen/enrich opportunities (including global connections).
  6. Improve feedback and dialogue on design/delivery with students and others.
  7. Enable real-world impact for student work – academia, business, social, political etc.
  8. Develop transferable and enduring student capabilities.
  9. Ensure students understand the value of their learning.
  10. Explain ideas effectively.
  11. Improve feedback to and dialogue with students.
  12. Assessment that is accurate, relevant, meaningful, appropriate, timely – constructively aligned.
  13. Smooth operation: reduce/eliminate errors, misunderstandings, contentions, inconsistencies.
  14. Speed up and make clearer orientation (where am I in time, space, process etc.).
  15. Improve facilities for students’ independent study.
  16. Improve student and staff welfare – physical, emotional.
  17. Find out what really works and why in teaching and learning – research.
  18. Share knowledge and good practice.
  19. Challenge, disrupt, critique, surpass habits and assumptions.
  20. Create and sustain a community of practice.
  21. Accurately understand my students (capabilities and needs).
  22. Help students to accurately understand themselves.
  23. Allow students to experience otherwise inaccessible experiences.
  24. Facilitate students to make quality objects.
  25. Facilitate students to take managed risks.
  26. Record and track incidents and tasks together.
  27. Ensure fairness and equal opportunities
  28. Identify priorities for action together.
  29. Plan a series of actions together.
  30. Monitor and adjust a plan together.


Student Champions framework published by HEA

The HEA have just published the report that I wrote last year.

Student Champions: a competency framework, process model and developmental approach for engaging students in the enhancement of learning, teaching and the student experience in higher education

This report is based on a collaboration between the Academic Technology Team, LDC, Classics and Life Sciences. It is intended for use by everyone involved in enhancing learning, teaching and the student experience (LTSE) in HE.

The framework describes how students can and do perform essential roles within the enhancement of LTSE – as part of special projects (such as those now funded by WIHEA) and through everyday practice.

A set of intermeshing competencies are described for 9 essential roles:​

  1. informed advocate;
  2. technical facilitator (spaces, learning designs, technologies etc.);
  3. social facilitator;
  4. admin process facilitator;
  5. project facilitator;
  6. creative-critical friend;
  7. researcher;
  8. horizon watcher and visionary;
  9. design participant.

The framework demonstrates how all of these competencies are essential for a continual enhancement process, so as to ensure that innovations fit with the needs and ambitions of their users, stick for a reasonable length of time, spread to more people and more contexts, and enable continual growth in our capability for further improvements.

The student champion approach (as implemented as Digichamps by WIHEA) encourages staff and students to form teams and work together to develop and apply this full range of competencies.


Problems with the idea of “early adopters”

Some thoughts on the idea of “early adopter” and the negative effects it can have on projects. The term originated with the “diffusionist” perspective in technology and innovation studies (Everett Rogers). There is a diagram at the bottom of this page which characterises this. You will recognise the terms instantly, even if you haven’t read Rogers. They have, along with the model, become default assumptions. My argument is that they might have applied in the 1950s, but the world has changed since then and become far more pluralistic and inventive. Unfortunately using these concepts today can have negative consequences for innovation projects, organisations and people.

My advice is to cultivate wider collaborations with a more representative range of people, through a participatory design thinking approach. Don’t get blinded by early success! Design for adaptability and to foster unexpected applications.

Early adopter bias

Early adopters are often self-identified as such, and furthermore their identities are constituted upon their ability to find newness (and news), which means they are more easily engaged with by innovation projects. Even when we are aware of the limitations inherent in working with them, their readiness to engage can unconsciously skew our actions and perceptions. It can make a small but significant difference to the direction of a project.


By definition (in the work of Everett Rogers) the concept of early adopter implies an inevitability to the spread of the innovation to the early and late majority, and the existence of laggards (who can just be ignored as they are always a nuisance). This can encourage a project team to be too relaxed about the real hard work of getting the design right for the majority, or at least a big enough market.


The original Rogers model (based on agriculture research) assumed that innovation works in a world in which everyone is already following approximately the same practices and striving for the same ends. Innovations are seen as incremental improvements, based on research and advances in technology. Our experience with tech innovation in recent years has been quite different. Technology (and practices in Platform Capitalism) are encouraging radical diversity in practice and aims. The outcomes of innovation projects are increasingly unpredictable, hence the focus upon developing platforms that enable many creative responses by many people and at the same time allow investment to recoup cost and generate value sustainably over longer periods of time.

Cultural centricity

Design an innovation is seen to belong in the studio and the lab. It is associated with the industrial-scientific complex and its twin the disruptive inventor – located somewhere in silicon valley, and populated by young, white, male, europeans. See Lucy Suchman’s article “Anthropological Relocations and the Limits of Design”.

Overview of diffusionist perspective

Overview of diffusionist perspective

The Extended Classroom at Warwick – one year on

The Extended Classroom is our way of making sense of technology enhanced learning for everyone in the campus-centric environment of Warwick University. The guiding principles are that TEL aims to sustain and amplify good teaching and learning practice, using technologies appropriately, with sustainable, scalable, supportable and enduring impact. I started work on this initiative in January 2015. We launched with a fortnight of events in March. And since then we have distributed over 800 sets of the 8 initial Extended Classroom technology cards – describing 7 core tools in plain English terms that get across the basics and the value they can add.

The approach is now well embedded. We are working with other parts of the University, especially the Learning and Development Centre, to take it further – now with the addition of “recipe for success” cards and online information. The recipes specify all the ingredients and the processes necessary to adopt a new technique (e.g. flipped classroom) using the tools. This is all being put together using a course/hub hybrid model in Moodle.

I’ve just created this video giving an updated overview of the initiative (best viewed full screen):



Learning technology in the medieval lecture theatre

I’ve had a couple of conversations this week about the medieval university, largely along the lines of “things haven’t changed that much”. Indeed there is some foundation for that claim. But in reality the early universities were more diverse than we might imagine. Present day debates about what universities should be like would benefit from revisiting this diverse past so as to inject a broader understanding of what they could be like and why they have been so constrained (mostly to stop us fighting with the locals and the priests).

For my PhD I touched on this a little. I especially enjoyed Hunt Janin’s book The University in Medieval Life, 1179-1499 (2008). That gives a sense of the origins of our often strange ways of doing things. Most interesting are the differences between southern and northern European traditions, with different responses to the need to deal with the emerging and often disruptive new classes of people – masters and students with a dangerous relationship to the clergy and the craftspeople in who’s towns they practised. The University emerged as a compromise, a way of safely accommodating these forces, a way of stratifying their nomadic intensities in the medieval world. And yes, much of what we recognise within the organise of universities today does hark back to those times.

I really do recommend Janin’s book. For the philosophically minded, it would be especially be productive to read it from the perspective of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, which gives a rich conceptual framework for modelling dynamic interactions of nomadic and sedentary forces. It fits well with their anti-functionalist view of history (which itself follows Foucault’s Les Mots et Les Choses/The Order of Things) – institutions, practices, assumptions that seem natural now were in fact formed by complex dynamics during often short periods of time, the expression of conditions and desires that have long since dissipated, and which are buried deeply in the past, often disconnected from the resulting phenomenon (Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge is intended to recover the memory of the non-functional conditions through which our ideas were formed). In this way, history reveals its own absurdity, the realisation of which may free up our relation to the future. That’s Nietzsche coming through, but let’s not dwell on it (philosophy joke).

Here’s a few tasters relating to the evolution of the lecture format, along with some 21st Century comments…

“Masters taught in two ways: the lectio (reading), when they read aloud and painstakingly explained an authoritative text while the students listened passively, and the disputatio (oral disputation), in which students themselves played an active role in debate.” (ibid. KL 566) The lecture/seminar diad – things haven’t changed that much then.

“…the basic aim of teaching in the medieval university was to transmit to students, uncritically, selected parts of the medieval world’s received (inherited) body of learning” (ibid. KL 425) What, no Wikipedia?

“…a master would carefully read an approved legal textbook to his students – word by word, line by line – and would painstakingly explain the meaning and application of every sentence. Medieval law students had to memorize the opening words of enormous numbers of laws and to be able to recall them immediately and in proper order to keep up with the lecturers, who would refer to them quickly and without pausing.” (ibid. KL 861) I don’t suppose they bothered with student satisfaction surveys.

“At first students took notes on wax tablets and did their best to keep up with the lecturer’s flow of speech. When they fell behind, they might respond by hissing, groaning, or throwing stones to try to make him speak more slowly.” (ibid. KL 672) if only they had ResponseWare, much violence would have been avoided.

“At the canon law school of the University of Paris (and presumably at the Faculty of Arts as well), lectures by the professors were delivered without notes and, in the predawn darkness, without any light either…Since it was impossible for students to take their own notes without any light, they tried to memorize the gist of what the master said.” (ibid. KL 698-699) Lecture capture tech required!!!!

Example lecture design using ResponseWare

I am currently writing a short course about using ResponseWare as a lecture engagement tool. This will also be used for some live sessions as part of our Window on Teaching series. My task is to show how the ResponseWare personal response system (PRS), in which students respond to questions using their own mobile devices, may be integrated into lectures in a research-intensive University (Warwick). The design has to avoid an unintended emphasis on shallow knowledge checking, and should instead use the technology to nudge the students towards a deeper engagement with theory and its application.

We can understand the value of ResponseWare by thinking about how it transforms roles, relationships and responsibilities. It extends the agency of students and lecturers, allowing them to shape the flow of events (thoughts and actions) in the lecture.

By using ResponseWare we can transform the relationship between the lecturer and students, between students and students, and between theory and practice. The example below illustrates some of these transformations.

We can, for example, add more carefully constrained points of focus in the lecture, at which points everyone stops and acts in response to the same provocation to think. We can change the pace of thought and action – using a fast sequence of questions (with a limited amount of time to answer) or a single slow question to be pondered for a longer length of time. We can come back to the same question repeatedly, tracking how student understanding changes as a result of the lecture. We might also hand over agency to the students, as in this example where students get an opportunity to write questions – which is itself a challenging task demanding a clearer and more precise understanding and ability to express an understanding.

In this particular example the problem of connecting theory and practice is addressed by combining a more conventional lecture with immediate opportunities for the students to apply new theoretical knowledge.

Note also how ResponseWare’s in built messaging system is used to gather ideas and feedback from the students in a written form – one of the aims of the lecture is to get the students articulating their theoretical knowledge more precisely so that it can be used in practice.

There are no doubt many varied ways in which this can be done, with differences between academic contexts. For this example I chose an imagined module about applied design theory. This is a lecture towards the beginning of the module. The module is aims to get the students understanding and applying what are often quite abstract theories. It is assessed through an individual design project. There might be a tendency for the students to focus upon the practical challenges of the project, ignoring the deeper theoretical issues. This is a crucial lecture in that it aims to get the students making connections between design theories and their interaction with clients, through value-led designing.

An example lecture design

The timeline below illustrates the flow of events over the hour.

An approximate timeline for the lectureAn approximate timeline for the lecture

There is a period of settling down and bringing the focus of the whole class together – this might be lengthened slightly by the need to get the tech in place, but practice should make this faster. The technology does take up a little extra time, however it can also make the initial minutes of the lecture more focussed and consequently more useful.

I would then communicate the intended learning outcomes (ILO) and the nature of the forthcoming activities (teacher and students), with an explanation of their connection to assessment (all joined up following the Biggs’ doctrine of constructive alignment). In conventional terms, the main body of the lecture consists of me giving a survey of a set of design theories and illustrating how we can derive investigative design questions from them so as to undertake value-led designing. How I do that might be altered a little if I find that the students have read very little of the material already, or if they are more advanced than expected. So I need some easy way of getting to know where the students are at. I also want to the students to try out the technique (deserving questions from theory to use in a value-led investigation) as soon as possible – preferably in the lecture. Once they have done that, and reflected upon it together, I will recap and talk about what comes next (and I want them to know that they can have follow up discussions after the lecture in the VLE so that I can get away quickly and not have to deal with a crowd of inquisitors).

This is what the timeline looks like, with my use of ResponseWare and PowerPoint indicated with the icons. Notice also that in the student activity they will be authoring ResponseWare questions themselves using the Turning Point software. Have a look at the timeline, and then below I will step through the innovative uses of ResponseWare that happen in the lecture.

I would want to get the first ResponseWare question on the screen before the students have even got into the room if possible. I want to get them focussed and engaged right away. But I don’t want to do it in a trivial way. No icebreaker. I want to send out the message that this lecture is crucial for them personally. So my first ResponseWare connects the lecture directly to their own personal design projects (indicating that this is a constructively aligned lecture):

ResponseWare question 1
Now, with the students settled and focussed, I tell them what we are going to do and why. My explanation (and the accompanying PowerPoint slide) follows directly on from the initial question.

Next, before racing on with my part of the lecture, I want to get a quick indication of their background reading:


Then, I want to heat things up a bit, so I’ve put in a question that might be a bit provocative. This can act as a lead-in for the theoretical work. It also acts to counterbalance the next part of the lecture, which will be largely me speaking.


I then move into the more conventional part of the lecture, with a series of plain PowerPoint slides and a carefully worded monologue explaining the theories and their use in value-led designing, and illustrating design questions that can be derived from them. I end this by explaining what I want the students to do next. In small groups they are going to propose some design questions, derived from the theories. We will then gather the questions together into ResponseWare (via Turning Point) and collectively evaluate them. So the students are contributing to the lecture directly, and trying out the methods described in my lecture.


ResponseWare includes a messaging channel, allowing the students to write and share messages with the whole class (you might need to enable this in Preferences -> Software). I use this facility for the students to send their proposed questions to me, to be gathered together into the presentation.


For this stage I could get a volunteer to cut and paste the proposed questions from the messaging tool back into the presentation as a series of new questions. For example:


The students evaluate all of the proposed questions and discuss their value together as a whole class. The anonymity of voting helps with this. Finally I get the students to think about how they will use these methods in their own projects and to feed back their reflections using the messaging tool. I can save these texts and put them on to the VLE (along with the question ideas and the ratings).


After a lecture recap by me, I then want to reinforce the message that the students need to read the key texts containing the theories we are using. I want to nudge them into assuming this is just a normal thing to do, so I ask them a final question which asks for a personal committment:



Emotionally Durable Design, Jonathan Chapman

Emotionally Durable DesignIn this article I’m going to explain why I like this book and why you should read it – indeed why you must read it. This is not a full review, but rather it aims to put the core concepts of the book into the context of higher education studies.

Jonathan Chapman is the Professor of Sustainable Design at the University of Brighton (which is on the south coast of England). His book played an important part in my PhD, and I think it needs to be read far more widely by everyone involved in designing things in higher education. As I demonstrated, that really means everyone in the University, and many people beyond (policy makers, funders, alumni, parents). Today, in the digital age (which is a cultural as well as a technological epoch) a thing that is as complex as a university, and dependent for its being on the involvement of many people, is constructed by the actions of those people, with more or less “design agency” distributed between them. Indeed it might be the case that the stranglehold of the central powers (architects, administrators, tenured academics) is weakening. The university of the near future will be far more an emergent product of the interactions between the many different concerns, projects and practices of a radically diverse population.

There is, for example, a powerful trend in assessment design, visible in even traditionally conservative disciplines. The shift is towards seeing diversity and student-led innovation as being of value. That isn’t necessarily a new thing in itself. In my discipline, philosophy, students are rewarded with top marks for creating their own essay questions, perhaps even discovering whole new areas for the philosophical exercise, and then responding to their own challenge with novel solutions. But today the difference is that the format in which assessments are presented is becoming more divers. There is scope for student reinvention in every aspect. And so, to complement that creativity, the question of how student work should be assessed is now more open than ever. Students are increasingly co-designers of the modes of assessment applied to their work. Today design is everywhere.

But that does not necessarily mean that good designing is happening everywhere. Or indeed that we have a shared sense of what that good might be. Chapman himself challenged me over this – asking if I adhere to the claim that today everyone is a designer. My answer was: no, not everyone. There’s more to being a designer than having a semi-conscious or un-conscious impact on the shape of emergent designs. We need to make a distinction between many different levels of engagement with and different roles that may be played in the design process (emergent or top-down). I identified a taxonomy of three (everyday, guerrilla and professional), but in reality that is a gross simplification (albeit a useful gross oversimplification).

But perhaps we are not doing enough to evolve a sense of good design collectively? And that’s where Jonathan Chapman’s work steps into play. Emotionally Durable Design is a design-philosophical work concerning fundamental design values – that is to say, the values that guide the choices that we make and the judgements that we draw when designing, selecting and using designed things. Given that design agency is becoming decentralised, and that we need to promote wider and more inclusive dialogue concerning good designing and designs, then critical-creative focus upon design values is a vital necessity.

So what’s so special about this book? Well today a new set of design values are becoming common currency. Some of these come from architecture, some from technology, some from cognitive science (Don Norman being a key player), combined with many other sources. For example, we talk of the need for “delight” in the use of designs – there’s an echo of aesthetic theory in that. We talk of spaces that “inspire”. There’s a rich language, much of it quite vague and imprecise. You can find it in institutional strategy papers, web site blurbs and graduation speeches delivered by glassy-eyed vice chancellors. On the other hand, we use design values that offer analytic and empirical precision. How “scalable” is it? How “sustainable” is it? That last question is of course especially significant. We understand that over consumption is a risk to the planet. So we want sustainability in the sense of lower carbon emissions and the preservation of natural resources. There’s also a kind of wise Capitalism behind this thinking (if that’s not just a contradiction). Sustainability in this sense also means the continuation of the business. I hear that a lot in discussions with managers in the IT world when confronted with innovation: is it sustainable? or will it eat human and technological resources to the detriment of the business – to the point of collapse? However, often the debates around sustainability in all of these senses get tied in knots – both rhetorical and empirical.

Chapman’s argument takes a very different, very original track down the sustainability route. What if our problem wasn’t just about sustainability? What if that’s just a symptom of a deeper failure in our design values? What if our problem really is that:

  • despite our good intentions and the resulting consumer preference for products and services carrying the “sustainable” label;
  • our desire for novelty, for difference, for churning through updates and faster, smarter, sexier stuff, is in fact a real threat to the environment and to the stability of society;
  • and what if this constant restlessness is driven by our failure to find products and services that are “emotionally durable”? – that stick with us for longer, perhaps even a lifetime?

Emotionally durable – yes, that chimed with an observation that I had made in the University. In terms of information technology I had seen how our “early adopters” (to use Everett Rogers’ imprecise term), the very people who should be leading the discover of well-fitting technology practices, are in reality propagating a restlessness, resulting in a continual churning through new things. They don’t seem to be asking: will this stick with me and others? or what do we need to do to achieve durability? The dominant emotions are frustration with the way things are and excitement with the prospect of novelty.

Now of course that is a good game for Capitalism to play. We can keep feeding its ferocious all consuming drives, even when we label something as sustainable – indeed the car industry is now profiting hugely from the tightening grip of eco legislation. It’s no longer a matter of making each generation of car a bit faster and a bit more luxurious. Progress in environmental terms gives another reason to upgrade, even if that means more junked old cars (and the massive environmental costs implied). Car showrooms and adverts are full of paradoxical messages concerning sustainability and consumption. The vast automotive advertising industry exists to manage our emotions, to keep us from feeling buyers remorse (the purpose of most advertising today is to tell us that we did buy the best product after all) and at the same time keeping us on the edge of wanting more. Personally, I’m a motorcyclist, and in fact a BMW rider – a brand well known for its emotional durability (not unlike many long term BMW owners I’ve had the same bike for 15 years, kept it repaired and refurbished, and have no plans to upgrade). A visit to a modern BMW Motorrad (motorcycle) showroom illustrates the dilemma. Back in the early 90s the company came close to financial failure. Not surprising with customers like me. So they have in the last 25 years slowly embraced a different approach, becoming addicted to cheap PCP finance plans allowing “buyers” to upgrade every year or two to the latest slightly faster, slightly more tech enhanced, slightly more environmentally sustainable machine. My model of bike, the Gelandestrasse (GS), has increase in power from 65bhp to 115bhp, and shows no sign of slowing down.

But emotional durable design is, as Chapman demonstrates, a difficult design value. Having introduced the concept his book concerns itself with the question of how we achieve this deeper and longer level of engagement with things. There is no simple answer. Humans develop deeper and more resilient emotional connections with things through a synthesis between the significance of the thing in their own life (both instrumentally and coincidentally) and an empathy for the thing itself, its sustenance and maintenance. The task then is to design to make those connections, for the production of meaning through an open and evolving relationship:

“Meaning is not something self-sufficient that lurks dormant within the semantic layers of an object until someone accidentally notices it, nor can it be universally designed or programmed. Meanings are created between people and things, and though designers can endeavour to create and trigger meaningful sensations within users, the explicit nature of those meanings is largely beyond the designer’s control.” (Chapman, 2005: 165)

How do we do this? That is a question we need to explore more, in general and in every specific design domain.

So what has this got to do with the University? Obviously we have a responsibility to further the dialogue concerning design values. And we can contribute academically to the debate in many ways. But I argue that there is something far more important for us to do. Students come to us to learn how to live, how to produce, how to consume and how to design. As participation in HE increases, so too does its role in shaping the ways in which people live in wider society – including their design values. The dialogue concerning design values, especially emotionally durable design, needs to include students by default. As argued above, universities are design-rich places in which design agency is distributed widely to all points. That should be an opportunity for all students to engage in good designing and the dialogue concerning the nature of good designing. We can start by considering how we can make the many things that we create (lectures, seminars, learning designs, academic practices, courses, departments, spaces, services etc.) more emotionally durable – how we can put this design value to the test in what we do everyday. We can oppose the tendency towards churning through experiences and novelties, which to some in HE can seem like an easy way to gain power and funding. Instead we can help revitalise our relationship with things:

“A revolutionary consumer reality is born, catalysed by new and provocative genres of emotionally durable objects and experiences that are designed for empathy.” (Chapman, 2005: p.18)

Student co-creation of knowledge with ResponseWare

I recently took over the ResponseWare service at the University of Warwick, following the retirement of my colleague Chris Coe. Since we began introducing the hardware-based Turning Point personal response system (PRS) about eight years ago, I had been curious about its fit with Warwick’s research-based learning and student as producer ethos. At first I encountered resistance to the idea of using PRS in core academic teaching. As is often the case with innovations, it edged its way into peripheral applications. But more recently I have seen some convincing examples that prove its compatibility with a research intensive institution’s notion of student engagement.

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