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, 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. 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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Increase student engagement and pedagogic flexibility by effectively communicating your learning designs

For my PhD research I interviewed, and in some cases observed and taught along side, many of Warwick’s award winning teachers, as well as some of our many unrecognised teaching champions. One of my questions was: is there something about how they design learning and teaching that contributes to their success? Yes there is. Communication design proved to be especially significant. More specifically, I could see how great teachers are able to effectively communicate their learning designs to students, no matter how varied they are (the students and the designs). There were three categories of case where this seemed especially significant:

  1. working with students who were new to university learning – often this is expressed in terms of “getting them out of the A-Level mindset”;
  2. working with international students – I’ve always been especially impressed with the communication skills of my PhD supervisor Jonathan Vickery, especially with the multinational groups that his work attracts;
  3. when varying the techniques, tools and design patterns being used, especially when they are very different to the standard lecture/seminar method.

That third point is of especial significance to me as an Academic Technologist. The implications are obvious, if a teacher is able to introduce and justify (to the students) a different (technology enhanced) way of working, then there is a much greater chance of success. I have seen this happen many times. I’ve also seen the opposite: failure as a result of an inability to communicate and justify. And yes, learning design changes do need to be justified. We know that students will disengage from teaching if they cannot perceive its value to their own development, or more bluntly, exam success. They can be sharply strategic, filtering out what seems to be useful from what might be confusing. Fancy pedagogic methods and tech-enhanced wizziness is more likely to be perceived as potentially confusing. Human brains are attuned to managing cognitive load. We have an in built “can of worms” detector!

So, the message is: communicate your learning designs and their value well, that will increase student engagement and at the same time allow you to use a wider repertoire of learning design approaches. Your confidence will grow, your teaching will be more effective and able to respond to varying needs.

Here’s the slides from a session that I recently did on this topic. I started with this title image:

Communicating learning designs003
That’s my four year old son Alex peering out from two Roman shields. This image illustrates how learners can do amazing things if you make it clear to them what kind of activity they should engage in. The photo is from Colchester Museum (amazing place). The shields were set out with the obvious intention that children should play. And they got the message and engaged. Together, Alex and Lawrence (10) built themselves a mini testudo – the tortoise defence used by the Roman army. Museum designers are getting increasingly good at communicating their learning designs in an unobtrusive and engaging manner, often encoded into their designs as enabling constraints and affordances. That illustrates how communicating designs happens verbally, but can also be encoded into the designs themselves (something that professional product and service designers do – see Don Norman’s work on this, for example The Design of Everyday Things).

But in the classroom? The message is, be clear but be imaginative.

The next slide illustrates my own learning design for the session, communicated through a very different technique. Very explicitly stated. It uses the design for constructive alignment approach recommended by Biggs and Tang in Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2011). The intended learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities, and assessment tasks are clearly stated in a way that shows their interconnectivity, or “constructive alignment”. This seems to be common sensical, but certainly not a design principle shared by and achieved by every teacher. We can see evidence of this in the NUS Assessment and Feedback Benchmarking Tool. It classifies constructively aligned assessment at the higher level of “refining” practice (4th of the 5 levels):

“Assessment criteria are clear, easily accessible and linked to learning outcomes and referred to throughout the course. Students fully understand what is expected of them in order to achieve each grade.”

At the highest level of the framework, outstanding practice and partnership, they add to that:

“They are designed in partnership with students to ensure accessibility.”

This follows the approach to assessment design recommended in the framework:

“Students are empowered and given the tools and support to co-design their assessment methods in partnership with academic staff. Programmes are planned holistically to assess a broad range of skills and knowledge through a variety of forms of assessment. Students are able to articulate the skills they have developed through the various forms of assessment on their programme.”

And we can see how clearly the communication of learning design as constructively aligned would be essential to and enhanced by this co-designing.

I’ve added another useful dimension to the constructive alignment approach, taking a schema from Barnett and Coate’s book Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. This counters the claim that constructive alignment can tend towards spoon feeding and encouraging too much of an exam-grade orientation in students from the outset of a course. Barnett and Coate argue that we need to go further in specifying what we want to achieve with learning designs, further than just saying what the students should know and what they should be able to do. We need to talk about how they should be – learning is about change in what we know, how we act and what we are. This pushes students to go beyond more superficially performative behaviour, acting for the metaphorical camera that is assessment. We want a deeper level of engagement. And you can see below how I have been clear about that being in terms that align with the activities and assessment.

Communicating learning designs002

I then covered some of the key points that my research revealed about why learning design comms is so important:

Communicating learning designs004

Time to tell some horror stories! I have a good one about a lecture I attended as a student. The lecturer, without warning (but for good reasons) flipped the classroom. Some of the students rebelled. It was all a bit nasty!

Communicating learning designs005

And then some good practice…

Communicating learning designs007

And finally a call to hear stories about people who do it really well. This photo features Carol Rutter (English) and Paul Raffield (Law) teaching together on their highly innovative Shakespeare and the Law module (read about it in the Open-space Learning book by Monk et al.). They do radical stuff. Amongst the most innovative. Way outside of the usual HE box. But they are also great communicators, and manage to bring the students with them confidently.

Communicating learning designs008

So finally, a call to tell us your stories. There’s a hashtag to tweet: #GreatLDComms.


Communicating learning designs

Tweaks, remixes, sprints and marathons – TEL project designs

The next step in the development of our Student Champions initiative will see us define a range of projects types, so as to answer the question “what can Student Champions do for us?”. We want to enable innovation, but at the same time engage a much broader portion of the University population in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). So, I am currently getting out and about looking for “remix” style projects – that is to say, cases in which a teacher (and their students) can easily adopt and implement a different learning design pattern or technology, without opening up a big scary can of worms. A remix should have an obvious application, easily appreciated value, simple configuration of options, and most of all, its workings should be clearly visible and understandable to the average person.

An example of a remix would be: “replace show of hands voting with anonymous PRS (clickers or online) so as to increase student risk taking and engagement”. It is, in effect, a design pattern with clear instructions on implementation. At Warwick, we would recommend using our centrally supported Turning Point system (either hardware clickers or the Responseware app).

Remixes are important from a diffusion of innovations perspective – they travel fast between people and different contexts, but they also have significant impact in each case. Remixes have the further benefit of increasing the confidence of teachers and students in TEL innovation. More successful remixing leads to a greater capability for design change and flexibility.

From a more developmental perspective, we can view remix projects as sitting on a continuum that describes the complexity/difficulty/regularity of TEL work – tweaks, remixes, sprints and marathons. We hope to have lots of remixes defined, but expect to find more complex projects (sprints, marathons) that might over time become simpler remixes. We are currently funding two projects with this in mind.

In Life Sciences, a team of talented undergraduates have been developing interactive online learning resources, and more importantly, developing a production approach (selecting technologies, designing workflows etc). They are on to their second round of production. Their approach has moved from the sprint/marathon end of the spectrum closer to the remix end.

In Classics, we are trying a different technique. We have two PhD students who are researching and designing an approach to the encoding of ancient texts (TEI). Importantly, they are working out how this can be integrated in the undergraduate curriculum, and how it can become a more common research practice across the department and beyond. They are in effect building a new kind of remix for us.

Here’s the definitions:

Tweaks: At the simplest, easiest end of the spectrum, below the level we would normally describe as a “project”, there are “tweaks” – simple changes to existing practices aimed at optimising without disrupting. Tweaks are typically suggested as a result of peer-to-peer or expert-to-peer teaching observations. We would like Student Champions to develop a capability for spotting and (diplomatically) suggesting tweaks. But that might be a more long term issue. We also need to recognise that in some cases a teacher might need to approach the adoption of a tweak into their habitual practice as a project in itself – change is harder than we imagine! Tweaks are rated low on the “can of worms index” – meaning we should be able to adopt them without too many unforeseen consequences.

Remixes: In which we replace a learning design – so for example going from a straightforward didactic lecture to an interactive lecture using clicker – as described above. Remixes score a little higher on the “can of worms index”.

Sprints: Tweaks and remixes are relatively straightforward and self-contained kinds of project, whereas sprints require more planning, adapting, problem solving, trying out alternatives and fitting things together – so for example tracking the performance of students in clicker-based tests over a whole module. Warning – this might open up a whole can of worms (but some people seem to like that kind of thing, and it is after all necessary for progress of any kind).

Marathons: In some cases, change has much wider implications and requires more people and systems to be coordinated together, and takes much longer with repeated periods of experimentation, reflection and adjustment, such cases can feel like marathons. This reminds me of the time I tried to fix a blown bulb in the dashboard of my motorcycle – £15k later and I had redesigned and refurbished the whole bike. Expect huge buckets of worms falling in a constant drizzle with the possibility of sunny spells and better weather next year.

How to become an Extended Classroom Champion

I am currently working with undergraduates, postgrad research students, alumni and staff (of all kinds) on an investigation to answer the question: how can students become Extended Classroom Champions?

We have seen in the past that there are significant benefits for staff and students in working in partnership to enhance learning, teaching and the student experience (LTSE) through design and development work. Students get paid to do this work, but also access potentially life-changing opportunities. In return, enhancement projects benefit from the student perspective, energy, skills and creativity. We are now looking into how we can use this approach more extensively for the Extended Classroom initiative. In this article I report on progress so far, and outline the basis for a framework that describes how students can become, and make the most of being, Extended Classroom Champions.

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Extended Classroom Champions: from awareness, through adoption, to informed advocacy and design participation

I am using an elaborated “diffusion of innovations” model as the basis of my strategy for the Extended Classroom initiative at Warwick. The model is called the “organisational learning and design loop” and emerged out of my PhD research. The loop illustrates an ideal pattern through which people come to integrate new practices and continually use them – with the emphasis on finding innovations that fit well and endure (stick) over time, in a context that helps them to spread as widely as possible. There is also an additional reflective dimension that leads at least some people into becoming “informed advocates” (spreading innovations) and “design participants” (growing our capability for further innovation). So it is both a design loop and a learning loop – creating and embedding design innovations, and creating fresh knowledge about people, the organisation and the world. Advocates help to spread the practice to more people and into more uses. Design participants feed back into the design process, thus growing our capability for effective designing and innovation.

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How can we enable a culture of continuous improvement in HE through student partnerships?

Nomenclature-complexity alert! There are many alternative names and phrases used for some of the things talked about in this article. I have tended towards acronyms that cover all the bases – like LTSE. However, I acknowledge that they often seem quite awkward, and we really need snappier and more widely recognisable terminology. This is typical of a new field emerging from diverse academic and professional disciplines. And inevitably that causes problems. For example, I have found many areas of overlap with enterprise skills and entrepreneurship. In some disciplines, describing it in such terms is the natural way of thinking. In others, it is guaranteed to put people off. Even the word “partnership” might be contentious. There are already many kinds of partnership, and many people who may consider its cultivation to be within their own domain of stewardship.

This article is actually about a specific kind of staff-student partnership, for which different institutions have different names (Digichamps at Southampton; Student Ambassadors at Sheffield; E-Squad, FLAG Team and Digichamps at Warwick) none of which seem entirely accurate or very widely meaningful (I tested this out with a selection of people) . Within this sub-set of partnership types, I am especially concerned with partnership work that makes the most of, but is not dominated by, digital technologies. Part of the challenge is to find ways to make these approaches instantly recognisable across and beyond higher education – to students and staff of all kinds, to future students and their advisors, to funders and employers – a ubiquitous concept for all.

However, so as to avoid disappointment, I had better admit now that I haven’t yet found a perfect answer. But as set out in this article, I am getting closer to it, and I do have some strong contenders to be explored. An approach is emerging that relies upon more clearly defining the competencies that we expect students to have when working in these ways – what are they good at doing? how do they effectively contribute, and to what? We could answer those questions with an 80 page document full of fine-grained detail, but the aim instead is to identify a more distinctive concept, easily visualised and recognised, and getting to the essence of the approach.

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