About the editor

Dr Robert O’Toole (right)

I am a design practitioner,  researcher and teacher, with twenty years of experience working in educational design, academic technology and teaching. I am a recipient of the Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence, as well as Britain’s top award for university teaching, the National Teaching Fellowship.

My approach focusses upon the development of individual and organisational design capabilities – that is to say, the skills, tools, attitudes, behaviours and forms of organisation that help us to successfully identify and address design challenges together.

I use a variety of methods, drawn from design anthropology, cognitive science, sociology, philosophy and computing.

I have a 1st class degree in Philosophy (Warwick), an MSc in computing and cognitive science (Sussex) and a PGCE (with Qualified Teacher Status) in ICT (Warwick).

In 2015 I completed a transdisciplinary PhD in which I developed an approach for growing and applying design capabilities, called the “fit, stick, spread and grow” framework. Since 2015, I have worked to apply this framework at the University of Warwick, with major institution-wide initiatives including the Extended Classroom and Student Champions projects.

Don’t just solve immediate problems, use every opportunity to get better at creating alternatives and designing systematically to enable continual improvement and innovation.

Cultivate design capabilities, designerly cultures and communities.

Selected publications

Fit, Stick, Spread and Grow: Transdisciplinary Studies of Design Thinking for the [Re]making of Higher Education [thesis], 2015. Available online.

Kickstart VR at Warwick. Project Report. University of Warwick, Coventry, UK, 2017. Available online.

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. Higher Education Academy, 2016. Available online.

A report on e-portfolios : design features, uses, benefits, examples & emerging trends. Working Paper. University of Warwick, Coventry, UK – 7th most downloaded Warwick University research paper (31,000 downloads by May 2016), 2013. Available online.

Flipping the classroom : a design study of the adoption and adaption of new pedagogy in a higher education context. Working Paper. University of Warwick, 2013. Available online.

Innovation and design change strategies for learning technologies at Warwick: towards a ‘design capabilities’ heuristic for guiding practice and evaluating change. Working Paper. University of Warwick, 2013. Available online.

O’Toole, Robert (2013) Pedagogical strategies and technologies for peer assessment in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Discussion Paper. University of Warwick, Coventry, UK, 2013. Available online.

“Contagium Vivum Philosophia” in Deleuze and Philosophy, Ansell-Pearson, Routledge, 1997. Available online.

Current projects

Design Thinking – interdisciplinary undergraduate module 2018

Working with the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, I am designing and will be teaching a module for 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates. The aim is to combine a background in design research and methods with practical team work responding to a series of design challenges, with the students creating professional portfolios, including reflective/critical essays on their developing design capabilities.

PRS is now well embedded into teaching at Warwick, with almost 400 users of the Turning Technologies ResponseWare system. This project is reviewing the use of ResponseWare, examining alternatives, and looking at how we might usefully widen and deepen the adoption of PRS approaches in teaching. For example, how might it be used more systematically for in-class and post-class learning/learner analytics?

Following on from the successful Kickstart VR at Warwick project, we realised that there is great potential for the use of VR in the university’s outreach, public engagement and widening participation activities. Warwick staff working in these areas could take VR kit, with preloaded apps, into schools and to events, for use by children and the public. What could we do to make this cheap and effective? What might be the tech-management implications?

This multi-service initiative reframes learning technologies and spaces as tools and techniques for “extending the classroom”, supercharging the capabilities of teachers and students. Get a teacher and at least one student in an empty room and you have a minimal classroom. Add to that technologies, techniques and learning designs to sustain and amplify the value of their interactions, then you have an extended classroom. Go further, using 21st Century technologies for enriching the classroom and widening access beyond the here and now, and you have the Warwick Extended Classroom.

Recent Projects

Our aim is to demystify this emerging technology as it hits the mainstream, give lots of people experience of VR headsets, and to give some people experience of creating VR videos through google cardboard and/or 360 cameras.

Student Champions are great! In the resource constrained and time limited world of the university, having an extra-eager student with spare energy, time and knowledge to give is a wonderful thing. In return, being a champion provides the student with rare opportunities to work on design and development projects with experienced people using professional methods. We are working with students and support services to design and implement a Student Champions scheme at Warwick.

Undergraduate Research Student Support (URSS) system 2010-2016
The URSS (based in Student Careers and Skills) provides funded opportunities for over 250 students to undertake research projects that go beyond the curriculum. It is a keystone component of Warwick’s research-based learning approach. The students attend training sessions and are mentored through a scaffolded self-development process. They record and reflect upon their experiences and plans using carefully designed forms, with feedback from experienced research mentors (who are able to track their progress). This builds into a professional-style research homepage, of the kind used by researchers across academia. Initially developed in 2012, the next phase of work will transfer the system into the Moodle platform.