Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Learning and Teaching Symposium: Collaboration, Active Learning and Identities

It's that time of year when all that can be heard is tapping of keyboards, the clink of a teacup absent-mindedly being laid to rest on whatever is to hand and the groan as stiff shoulders are rolled back from being hunched over a keyboard for too long. It's marking season!

A welcome break from all of that is the annual event which takes place (every year, surprisingly) at Brunel - the Learning and Teaching Symposium. They're always informative, engaging and I tend to leave with lots of ideas buzzing round my head. This year was no exception.

Professor Fiona Denney, Director of Brunel Educational Excellence Centre

The focus of this year's event was on engaging students actively in their learning. The Vice Chancellor opened the day by giving attendees some history regarding the change in class-sizes and reduction in small-group teaching and the impact this had on student-staff relationships. Her theory being that this was related to the increase in student mental health issues. Going forwards, campuses are designing new buildings with flexible spaces in mind which are designed to get some of this connectivity back.

Engaging keynotes from Dr Ian Turner and Dr Hannah Critchlow built on this aspect of student wellbeing and also the idea of students coming to university to see the lecturer perform and be engaging - a lecture as pantomime.. This ties in with the work we do in our Academic Practice team on teacher identities, philosophies and values.

Dr Hannah Critchlow
Dr Ian Turner
Fortunately, rather than just hearing all about students being active, I was able to experience some of this for myself so I've picked out a few highlights and themes below:


In a workshop with Dr Ian Turner, we worked in teams to develop games for our students. I don't normally like the idea of games as evidence suggests it can remove intrinsic motivation already in place (Hanus & Fox, 2015). However, having a clear idea of the player/audience, their ultimate goal, and some structure to achieving that goal works for me as it connects to coaching methods as well as aligning learning objectives with activities. Seems obvious but you should never assume!


The team-based learning workshop with Dr Simon Tweddell continued this theme of small groups, collaboration and interactivity. Individuals would assess their own knowledge then work as a group to come up with the right answers, while developing skills of negotiation and communication. Part of this activity included speaking up and defending their choices to the rest of the class so involved the use of critical thinking and the development of confidence in public speaking - all useful life skills.

Technologies and identities:

My favourite session involved the use of Padlet and lots of cutting and sticking. I'm not sure that our PgCAP students would appreciate what may seem like an old-school and childish activity or what it says about me that I enjoyed it so much! We created collages individually, upscaled them into a larger group piece and then shared them via Padlet with the rest of our class. I can see this working really well with distance-learning students or very large groups. I particularly like the idea of using it in a workshop on teaching identities and values for our HEA workshops.


These sessions showcased how individual student expression could be combined with teamwork and collegiality. This was summed up perfectly by the panel at the end of the day discussing what educators could learn from comedy. From identifying disconnects, reducing stress and promoting risk-taking to improving dialogic learning  and critical thinking skills - comedy has many uses in the classroom. Plus, it can make learning fun!

Comedy in the Classroom

How do you encourage collaboration amongst those you teach? How do you engage them actively? Leave a comment below; I'd love to hear from you!

Hanus, Michael D. and Fox, Jesse (2015) 'Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance'. Computers & Education, Volume 80, pp 152-161.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Spring is here and the grass has grown - marking/coaching/weeding

I find April an uplifting month. Spring is underway: bluebells, forget-me-nots and daffodils have all emerged and are doing their best to beautify the landscape. The showers are short and promote growth.

Growth is happening at work and at home too. At work the focus is on marking, preparing my Senior Fellowship application and reflecting on the previous term's teaching activities. At home it is on preparing the garden. Not the ideal time for the latter but the safest time to get the little ones involved.

What I've been up to this month:


I've handed in my second assignment and received very positive comments about it. I've completed thirteen hours of coaching, plus lots of practising within the workshops and have attended several coaching supervision sessions. The latter have been very helpful in allowing me to unpick and receive advice on some of the trickier areas - keeping it all anonymous of course. I have one assignment to go which I hope to complete very shortly and then that's it - I'll be a qualified coach! Then the work really starts...

Academic Practice:

Lots and lots of marking of draft portfolios. We asked for drafts and we've got them! These are mainly from our PgCAP programme but some are also from older programmes which we no longer run or from our open route to accreditation. I'm trying to fit them in around meetings but most productive marking takes place when I can block off several days and do little else but concentrate on this area. Easier said than done but I'm working on it.

Becoming embroiled in the 'finding a school for my darling' process:

This should have been easy as we have one very close to us but unfortunately it wasn't suitable so we've had to look elsewhere. We found out this month that we have got our first choice, which is a huge relief.

Getting the raised beds ready for sowing:

They are in a mess after not being used for a couple of years. It has also been challenging to do this with a full-time job and two small children; however, I have bought them their own spades and I'm hoping we can finish this with a team effort!

Giving blood:

I have a rare donor blood type so I get regular letters and phone-calls encouraging me to donate again. I was a regular until pregnancy, breastfeeding and a severe lack of sleep became part of my life. While I probably am too tired for it to be sensible, at least I know there will be some blood available if I have an accident! I also think that if you are willing to accept it then, if you are able, you should be willing to donate it.

What I've been reading:
I've not been reading so much recently due to marking, hospital visits and focussing on assignments but here's some of the main pieces:

Chimp Paradox and My Hidden Chimp by Professor Steve Peters . I bought the former after having heard it recommended by three different people in one month. It's already making a difference to my approach and it ties in with some of the mindfulness practices I use. My four year old loves the latter. It is a little bit old for him but we go through a chapter most weekends.

Reframing Professional Development Through Understanding Authentic Professional Learning by Ann Webster-Wright.Read as part of our team's continuing professional development.

Biggs and Tang, (2011) Teaching For Quality Learning At University A core textbook for the students on the PgCAP course and I've finally finished the entire thing!

Fellowshipat4 - A twitter hashtag used by the Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching. I'm currently putting together my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy portfolio and this was immensely helpful.

Recommended site:
Give blood. Do it! You will feel incredibly virtuous afterwards!

How's your spring shaping up? What plans do you have? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 1 April 2019

Five benefits of coaching: for the workplace

At my work, we recently had a visit from the Career Mum where she extolled the virtues of coaching and mentoring. My workplace has invested in training eleven new coaches to join the ten it has already has to form a coaching community to benefit its staff. Institutions as we know don’t often put their money where their mouth is so it’s a pleasant surprise to see this happen.

There are numerous blogs, articles and websites about how coaching can benefit the individual to gain clarity, find their purpose and create a plan to reach their goals; however, when writing my assignments for my coaching qualification I didn’t find as much aimed at institutions. Those who hold the purse-strings in organisations can make a big difference to people’s lives through the choices they make so, based on the Institute of Leadership and Management’s (ILM) recent White Paper, Cracking Coaching: Five ways to make an impact at work, here are a few reasons why companies should invest in coaching communities:

1. Coaching increases engagement and productivity:

According to the ILM’s Whitepaper, coaching helps increase engagement and boost productivity, especially in new joiners and those returning to work. It states workers who experience coaching have ‘improved confidence, performance and productivity’ all which improve life for the individual. In turn, reduced sickness, absence and lateness rates boosts the organisation's performance as a whole.

2. Coaching can reduce uncertainty:

Technology increase and uncertainty regarding the political landscape means individuals must learn to adapt and be flexible so they can manage change effectively and with the least amount of mental pain as possible. They may find their roles have changed or disappeared altogether; however, according to the ILM, ‘four fifths (79%) of those surveyed believe coaching can help teams when adopting new technology and different ways of working’. As a result, coaching can help to improve the resilience of individuals. Additionally, the organisation can spend fewer resources on training people to fill the skills gaps created by such changes.

3. Coaching can improve confidence and reduce conflict:

‘58% said they felt more confident after coaching’. The ILM states ‘Coaching makes individuals feel valued and promotes a more inclusive culture within the organisation’. This should mean a reduction in stress and an increase in motivation and self-esteem. There is an argument to suggest coaching could help reduce conflict as staff become more open and solution-focussed – leading to fewer disciplinary issues.

4. Coaching can ease the transition back to work:

The report argues a drop in ‘morale, engagement and motivation’ will lead to a reduction in productivity for the organisation. This is especially pertinent for those undergoing a transition back to work, either moving into a new role or returning from parental or long-term sick leave. Coaching would reduce the amount of lost productivity as they ‘find their feet’ and a resulting low attrition rate would mean fewer costly recruitment processes.

5. Coaching can help future leaders:

Coaching can have a positive effect on the confidence of those leading or managing others, with ‘67% of those surveyed agree coaching would make them feel good about managing others’. It promotes the idea that the organisation is investing in its employees which would encourage employees to stay. A significant majority (84%) of leaders reported ‘coaching would have helped them in periods when they struggled to manage an individual’.

If you’ve ever received, or would like to receive, coaching at work, I’d love to hear about your experiences. What impact did it have on you and your work or home life?