A list of things to always do - or avoid to help with inclusive and accessible design.

Designing for Diverse Learners: A new dawn

Last week I had the pleasure of launching the new version of the Designing for Diverse Learners guidance at the ALDinHE Conference 2022 alongside my colleague Tom Tomlinson. It is fair to say that this release is mainly due to the hard work and dedication of Tom. He worked to painstakingly bring the Designing for Diverse Learners work out of rigid PDF formats designed for print into a modern accessible designed for the web. The one thing that has me the most in awe is how Tom has helped preserve the overall look and feel that helped make this resource so successful in the first place. It is fair to say we’re both really excited to bring this to the wider community and we can’t wait to see what you think.

Sitting behind this new release was a broader project team supported by Kate Bridgeman and Conor Start at Hull as well as Kate Wright from Aberystwyth who helped bring the original poster into the Welsh language. As part of this work, we reviewed each and every single item on the poster, refining each point for clarity, precision, and accuracy. We tweaked here and there – with the end result keeping the spirit of the original work with some added information to really hammer the point. We’ve also supported each set of guidance with a full-page that explains the why sitting behind the instruction. I think this will really help ‘sell’ these points to educations, but also provide them a quick start by linking to relevant guidance.

Designing the Designing for Diverse Learners resource

This release broke free from the confines of a PDF/poster into a fully dynamic, online website. These changes make the resource as accessible as possible for users while providing a responsive design to maximize device compatibility. This is all while retaining the original always/avoid instructions in a split format. My favourite piece of Tom’s handy work is how the resource scales, maintaining two columns for large screen and print – but switching to cards on smaller screens. Tom has written up a more detailed account of this transformation in his recent blog post.

Another significant aspect of this version is the multitude of formats. We’ve switched to HTML/CSS as the main mode of delivery, providing an accessible and dynamic experience. This is, however, still backed up with a print version for anyone wanting to keep the resource as a handy quick reference guide on their desk. We’ve also provided both PowerPoint and Google Slides to help maximize the reach.

Reuse and licensing

This version maintains the same CC-BY-NC-SA Creative Commons Licence. This license has been a significant enabler in allowing re-use and adaptation. After all, it is under the terms of this licence that our work was able to evolve the original guidance from The Home Office. As with the previous versions, users will be able to reuse, remix and adapt this work for non-commercial means as long as they too share-alike. I’ve previously reflected on this license and how it has enabled our work in the CLA Blog. One-touch that I think works particularly well is that Tom has also bundled the icon pack into a separate download package. This will further enhance the re-usability of the poster and allow others to use it in their own contexts. We’ve seen our original work significantly evolve – and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. If you want to help us take this resource further – please fill in this form to get involved.

Finally, I know not everyone was able to make our ALDinHE Conference session. Please find the slides below – in case you are interested in what we shared:

ALDinHE Conference Presentation: Designing for Diverse Learners


I cannot believe it is over four years since I last blogged about this. What else would you like to hear about this?

Serious games for learning, collaboration and knowledge exchange

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending a Flood Resilience Workshop designed to help inform best practices in flood recovery. One of the distinctive parts of this session was that the substantive part of it was based around a board game. The Flood Recovery Game was built to facilitate dialogue with flood recovery stakeholders. With representatives from the Environment Agency, major insurers, Fire and Rescue, academics and more — it definitely delivered.

The Flood Recovery Game is a ‘serious game’ – serious as it is a learning and debate tool. There were several modes of play, all getting players to consider different scenarios and how they would deploy scarce resources. Money, emergency services, volunteers, council workers and recovery workers could be deployed to address the scenario. As the game developed, those resources became more scarce — and were deployed in different forms.

The games begin!

For the entire morning, we worked through The Flood Recovery Game in groups. The game started off with in quite an idealistic response. Resources were fairly unlimited — and you could deploy what you wanted. It reminded me a bit of those card games where all players pitch a response to a given scenario. The winner is chosen by the rest of the table, voting on their preferred response. The game starts to ramp up difficulty where resources become ‘spent’ and you start to earn random resources back. At this point it’s important to collaborate, especially when you have an uneven hand. At one point, I had lots of money and workers – but no council workers or emergency services, I just had to support the plans of others – but to their success!

I think my favourite modes of play came later in the game. At that stage, resources become finite and you don’t get them back (even at random)! At these end stages of the game, you get to role play one of the key stakeholders – the council, business, insurers, flood groups, NGOs, emergency workers and others. This is played on the second side of the board (see below) and gave much more opportunity for bartering resources.

The Flood Recovery Board Game. The game is based on cards that are played in response to flood scenarios.
The Flood Recovery Game

Reflecting on the game

I really enjoyed working with the others on my table. I was along to bring an ‘educational perspective’ – I’m still not 100% sure what that meant — but my geographical background and experience with local political really helped me get stuck in. I even won the first part of the game (😉). Collaborating with a student, an academic, a representative from Fire and Rescue and an insurer made for really interesting dialogue. Some of the participants noted that it was an excellent conversation starter and wanted to try it outside the Humberside region (we’re not bad for flood awareness apparently!).

One of the more useful aspects of this game was the opportunity to identify gaps – and perhaps, opportunities (see below). For example, our group identified a potential to leverage Fire and Rescue data to help Insurance Companies priorities their response to vulnerable customers. With some legal consideration or consent – that data could make all the difference in a disaster. There is even potential for that idea to leave the session — and there is an example of how the session also worked as a form of knowledge exchange. It allowed academic knowledge to breach the walls of the university to a place it could impact people, business and government.

Flip chart paper pads to identify gaps in flood response
GAP! Identifying gaps

Games in my practice

Developing games like this take a lot of time – and money too! Fancy printed boxes, boards and game cards don’t come cheap. For this reason, I’ve never had the inclination to develop something like these, even though I’ve always believed them to be pedagogically effective (considering teaching at this point). The quality of the discussion from playing the Flood Recovery Game, however, has made me consider their potential for teaching critical thinking. I’ve seen many structured approaches for debate, teamwork and so in from a business context — there is clearly educational potential too. I’d certainly like to see a criticality game – may provide an alternative approach to just another workshop.

Delivering my first conference keynote – (Re)connection: The importance of space/place & interaction in higher education

Space and place are the major focuses of my research. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote session for the Winter Symposium at the University of Hull. The conference was titled Building and Supporting Positive Learning Relationships, with a broad focus on how we build connections with students both within and beyond programmes. This was a perfect opportunity for me to discuss space and place. I had just under an hour, so split my time between presentation and discussion: covering the relationships students have with spaces and places. This took the discussion beyond the purely social relationships between students, and between students and staff.

Spaces are containers – the sites of activity and interaction. When we develop a relationship with a space, it becomes a place for us. Not just a university – but my university. Not just a course – but my course. I argue much more focus is needed on the development of universities as places. How do we support students to make the spaces of higher education, places that they belong? That they feel included? I think this is a vital component of the inclusion jigsaw – and something that is often forgotten when focusing on the relationships between people. Obviously, the connection between people is important – but it is only part of the story of success.

Leave you thoughts in the comments below – and check out the slides below or via SlideShare.

Why I don’t like Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle in reflective practice

Reflective practice

Reflective practice is a core tenet of many professions. From nursing to teaching – reflective practice is an aspect of qualification, a requirement of professional bodies and an accepted aspect of practice. Reflective practice requires an individual to engage in conscious thought about an experience, event or practice. Such thinking should be critical; considering both what has worked and what has not. The aim of such reflective thinking is to identify what went well so that you can keep doing it – and what hasn’t worked well so you can change it. In short, reflection should be a useful tool for future action. Reflection also requires some form of expression – from writing in a personal diary or keeping notes on your practice to having a conversation with peers or writing a formal essay. Reflection needs communicating – even if it is only for your own use.

Three stages of reflection for reflective practice:
1 - have an experience
2 - think about an experience
3 - put learning into practice

While there are many different academic models of reflection, they usually revolve around three core components: an experience, thinking about an experience and then putting that learning into practice. Popular models include Kolb, Gibbs, Schön, Rolfe et al., ERA and Brookfield. As a learning developer, I see these models used frequently in student work. There is, however, one model I see more than any: Gibbs‘ Reflective Cycle – and I’m sick of it.


Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Before I start the critique, I should first say that Gibbs’ model has its uses. The rigid structure serves some students well, setting out how their essays should look. Instead of fretting over planning, this is largely set out in Gibbs’ model.

Another advantage is that it annexes descriptions into a single section. While this can cause other problems, it at least contextualises the role of description in the rest of the piece – it is a small aspect. I also like how Gibbs’ refers to feelings as a distinct aspect. Feelings are often overlooked and their prominence in the Reflective Cycle is helpful at framing reflection as different from normal discursive academic writing.

Describe what happened briefly. Feelings - Describe feelings/emotional response. Evaluation - What was good/bad about response. Analysis - How do you make sense of it? (use research). Conclusions - General conclusions. Specific conclusions - Action Plan What would you do next time?
Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (Image from University of Hull, 2021)

Criticisms of Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Having given Gibbs some form of an introduction, this section briefly lists the issues:

  1. The Reflective Cycle is boring – The six-stage model leaves little breathing room for interpretation or expansion. It produces essays that are samey.
  2. The Reflective Cycle determines paragraphs – Most implementations of Gibbs’ model force students into a single paragraph per stage of the model. This doesn’t scale well as essay lengths increase, leading to too much description and feelings. It also does not provide much freedom on how different elements of a reflection are structured.
  3. The Reflective Cycle can lead to superficial reflections – This is because Gibbs does not require the writer to challenge values or assumptions associated with any of their actions in the experience.
  4. The Reflective Cycle fails to draw connections – Without linking the experience being reflected upon to other events, there is a missed opportunity to demonstrate depth.
  5. The Reflective Cycle focuses too much on the reflector – While reflection is a highly individualistic thing, most approaches to it consider there are others. However, Gibbs fails to move beyond analysis of self. This can make reflections self-serving as opposed to individually useful (and sometimes that means challenging!).
  6. The Reflective Cycle fails to pose probing questions – While deep, probing questions certainly can be associated with some of the aspects of Gibbs’ model, as presented in overview, these are lost. This, again, leads to superficial reflections.
  7. The Reflective Cycle fails to engage critical thinking – While the model has components of evaluation and analysis, these are simply defined. Evaluation and analysis should present an opportunity for critical thinking – but this is largely absent.
  8. The Reflective Cycle fails to contextualise – The distinct sections for description and feelings are set towards the front of an essay. This can makes it difficult to links between different aspects of evaluation and analysis with elements of description.
  9. The Reflective Cycle confuses novices – So many students struggle to differentiate the evaluation and analysis. This can lead to mixed up sections. I also don’t know if the analysis and evaluation are the right way round. Sometimes I’m in favour of swopping – and others in favour of the status quo.

These points demonstrate many of the weaknesses associated with Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle. I often find simpler models more effective as they give more freedom and space for tailoring to the task required.

Other options

When considering Gibbs, it is also useful to consider that other models are available. My favourites right now are:

Rofle

Rolfe et al’s (2001) framework focuses on three questions:

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what?

While this may seem simpler than Gibbs, I feel it allows more flexibility and adaptation. The three questions lead writers to consider a combination of description, links to theory and actions to take forward.

Brookfield

Brookfield’s (2005) four lenses encourage reflectors to consider an event from multiple perspectives

  • Lens of their own autobiography as teachers and learners
  • Lens of students’ eyes
  • Lens of colleagues experiences
  • Lens of educational literature

This directly addresses one of the critiques of Gibbs – that there is no consideration of others in depth.

LEGO Serious Play starter kit for research & teaching

LEGO Serious Play was an essential aspect of my research method, getting participants to ‘build’ their answer, not just talk it through. I’ve also used it as a teaching facilitation tool to support critical and divergent thinking. LEGO is one of my most favourite research and teaching methods, as you can let people work through answers with the use of LEGO, and then capture the salient points when they share their build. It not only saves a lot of data processing for the researcher, but it is a lot more fun for participants. For teaching, it supports different forms of thinking and really gets ALL students involved. While LEGO Serious Play is a distinct facilitation approach and you can get trained to use it, there are also some helpful books to get you started. I recommend Blair and Rillo’s SERIOUSWORK as a good place to start.

To use LEGO for any aspect of research or teaching, you first need to buy some! This blog highlights the choices I made to build my budget LEGO Serious Play kit.

LEGO Serious Play sets are awesome! But expensive. There is a range of sets available on the official LEGO shop, but they were beyond my budget as a self-funded doctoral student. I had to improvise. This article will introduce the sets I purchased and how I think they worked for research and teaching use.

My haul

The LEGO sets I purchased for my LEGO Serious Play kit

LEGO classic

LEGO Classic sets are a brilliant way to bulk out your LEGO Serious Play kit. You get a lot of brick for your money, and the variety of colours is fantastic. I’m so jealous of children today – LEGO had about five colours when I was a child. I already had a Large Creative Brick Box (10698) – so bought a couple more to serve as the baseline of my LEGO Serious Play kit. The plastic storage boxes they come in are also the perfect place to keep the LEGO stored away between uses. In addition to these larger sets, I also bought a couple more classic sets, one featuring lots of windows and doors (11004) – the other featuring lots of wheels (11014).

The available sets vary over time, but I have found they usually have a classic set on offer with extra wheels and another with windows and doors. These are useful additions to any LEGO Serious Play kit so I’d advise investing in such sets. Windows and doors are not only useful in a literal sense, but they work well for metaphors. Wheels work well for movement, vehicles and more. I’ve also seen a set with extra roof tiles which I think could be useful. It’ll certainly be part of my next LEGO purchase.

Interesting bricks

Next up I wanted to add a set with some different/interesting bricks. To be honest, any set would do for this – but I wanted to avoid anything licenced. I felt items like a Star Wars brick or a Spiderman Minifigure would not serve as universal references, so wanted to avoid them. I think Minecraft LEGO sets are particularly useful as they have lots of transparent tiles and colourful bricks. At the time I purchased my kit, LEGO was celebrating its 60 year anniversary and had launched some special Building Bigger Thinking sets. I purchased World Fun (10403), which contained some useful pieces like a treasure chest, eyes, columns, helicopter and a couple of Minifigures. I also chose Ocean’s Bottom (10404) which has more eyes, wings, wheels and transparent bricks.

All these LEGO classic sets built the bulk of my LEGO Serious Play kit. This gave me lots of standard bricks, including windows, doors, wheels and more. The next pieces I used to build my collection were all a matter of choice. For example, baseplates can be useful for a lot of LEGO Serious Play kits – but they were not something I needed for my particular research. As such, I decided to forego them. If you need to facilitate collaborative builds then baseplates are the perfect way to bring this together.

Pick a Brick

To top off my LEGO Serious Play kit, I wanted to choose a few additional bricks. To help with this, I used the Pick a Brick station at a LEGO store. I focused on extra eyes, small tile pieces and anything else small. This would allow participants to build intricate/small/detailed models – should they wish.

Minifigures

Minifigures can be a bit of a divisive topic when considering their use in LEGO Serious Play. They can lead participants to focus on people (which may not be a bad thing) when they’re building their answers. For my research, I felt participants would benefit from Minifigures. Libraries are inherently social spaces – and people are part of that. I didn’t want participants wasting time in my research sessions ‘building people’ – so Minifigures it was!

Again, I felt the best place to get these was through a LEGO shop. There are build-a-Minifigure stations in LEGO shops allowing you to build three custom figures per pack. Four packs (12 figures) covered my needs.

Preparing the LEGO

The worst thing you can do is walk into your first LEGO Serious Play research or teaching session with a load of new boxes of LEGO. It’s worth spending some time unboxing and unbagging it to ensure it is ready to use. I also spent time assembling a few elements to make them ready for use. For example, adding tyres to wheels, putting wheels on axels, putting panes in windows and adding doors to their frames. While participants are free to switch things around, it does mean the bricks are ready for use without needing to combine these pieces.

From the unboxing photo below, you can see there was a lot of plastic bags to ditch. I also wanted to find a way to layout the LEGO without getting it everywhere – so I used the cardboard box lids from printer paper boxes. It worked really well to stop LEGO falling all over the floor during my research sessions.

Ready to go!

With all the LEGO purchased, unpacked and ready to go, I was able to start using it for teaching and research purposes. I still keep the LEGO stored in the big yellow boxes that came with the larger sets. I also bring a load of those empty box lids to pour LEGO out and stop it from getting everywhere.

LEGO works as a wonderful research and educational tool. I took this snap from one of the first sessions I facilitated three years ago. I can’t wait to share some more of my reflections on this.

LEGO, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks and copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2021 The LEGO Group.

Using LEGO as a teaching aid for academic writing at university

This post will introduce my approach to using LEGO to teach academic writing. I conduct a lot of personal appointments with foundation and undergraduate students. For some students, ordering their ideas and structuring them is a real challenge. This problem tends to stem from:

  • not knowing where to start,
  • a sense of being overwhelmed,
  • the volume of information they consult,
  • the volume of information they feel *needs* including in their assignment.

Further, it is not just a case of ordering ideas, but structuring them that can be problematic. I feel that a lot of the poorly structured essays that I see are failing at the paragraph level. This is a real issue for a lot of students, especially those with less writing experience, those who have taken a break from education, or those who have no experience of essay-style examination. The latter is particularly an issue for international students from countries with different approaches to higher education assessment, often focusing on examinations above coursework essays.

This post will detail how I’ve used LEGO to discuss some of these issues with students, and use it to help them outline their approach to academic writing. This starts with a student I saw a couple of weeks ago. I was struggling to communicate the structural elements of an essay to them. The student had lots of ideas, but simply did not know where to start and all the approaches in study skill books were simply not working for them. Instead of just rephrasing, I tried a different approach, running downstairs to grab my tub of LEGO. I think LEGO bricks are an excellent way to visualise some elements of academic writing and decided this was the perfect time to give it a go. I think this metaphor for academic writing structure can really help students struggling to structure their ideas – or more appropriately, to help students who are overwhelmed with their own ideas and sorting them out.

Let me know what you think by commenting below, or getting in touch via @LeeFallin. You can also find out which LEGO sets I’ve used to build my teaching and research kit.

Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing

When planning your essay, it can be really daunting. You end up with ideas all over the place:

LEGO bricks spread all over a table in no order

You need to order these ideas into groups. The act of doing this enables you to identify the major aspects of your essay. As expected, some ideas will be discarded at this phrase too (see the pile to the right side). It is still worth keeping a record of these as they may be useful at a later stage (who would EVER throw a LEGO brick in a bin!?!?!):

LEGO bricks grouped into piles of the same colour. Some to the right are discarded.

Once you have grouped all of your ideas like this, they form the basis of your overall argument. Each brick group is an aspect of this, forming one of the micro-arguments that lead your reader to the conclusion in your overall argument. These micro-arguments (brick groups) may by represented in an individual paragraph, or across a group of paragraphs. This process is not easy. At this idea stage, some of your groups will end up too large and you will need to break them up across two or more paragraphs. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish which paragraph an idea belongs in. In reality, you are more likely to come across this problem later in writing when you have an oversized paragraph that you need to break up:

A pile of yellow LEGO bricks of subtlety different shades

When all the elements of your points, arguments or ideas are grouped into their individual paragraphs, they need further structuring:

A pile of brown bricks come together into a block

A solid paragraph should have a good structure. I recommend TEAL as a good starting point:

  • Topic – A brief introduction to what the paragraph is about. What is your point?
  • Evidence – Academic evidence, reflections, your own research/data
  • Analysis – The ‘so what’? Persuade the reader that your conclusion is the correct one
  • Link – Link this paragraph to the next – or to your overall argument.

(Indeed – this stage may be the *best* starting point for some students, but the route described so far is excellent for those who struggle to structure all their ideas in the planning phase)

TEAL is a good way to structure all those ideas into a coherent paragraph:

An assembled block of brown bricks

LEGO bricks are an excellent metaphor for how you need to link all these elements together. The bumps and they way they interlock with bricks above makes this point clear. Everything with a paragraph must coherently link together and make sense:

Photo of lego blocks - demonstrates the

Once you have your individual paragraphs, they need to be assembled in the right order. This is often done as you go along, but as you being to edit, you may realise they need re-ordering. It isn’t just the structure that may change, and as you edit, some smaller points may need removing as you further refine your ideas (and try to get under your word count):

A long block of assembled bricks. Colours are striped in groups to represent paragraphs.

All of these elements together can help you rule your own writing:

LEGO monarch with crown

Taking this into practice

To put this into practice, I often recommend students grab a stack of post-it notes or use a mindmap to get all of their ideas on the table. The principles above serve as a great framework from which to interpret all these ideas. Working from the ideation phase, grouping/sorting and refining the order and breaking it into paragraphs. If all else fails, literally using the LEGO bricks works well too. Small post-it notes can be used to adhere ideas to the bricks in a way that doesn’t require cleaning them afterwards. This works perfectly with Duplo too.

The model above is designed to help students identify their main points, group their ideas under these main points, and then divide those points into interlinked paragraphs. As the bricks represent, these all need ‘clicking together’ to form a stable essay (or stable LEGO model!). This may seem a little obvious for advanced writers, but it is certainly worth trying with those new to academic essay writing. As above, please let me know what you think! I should also note a quick thank you to my colleague Sue Watling. She indicated this approach was interesting when I mentioned it in conversation, so I figured it was worth expanding on my blog.


LEGO, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks and copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2021 The LEGO Group.

Rocketbook Panda Planner for work/life/study productivity

This post introduces the Rocketbook Panda Planner, a new tool I’ve been trying to help manage my work/life/study. When I first returned to work from parental leave, I needed to get my head back into the world of work. I’d tried lots of different tools to keep myself focused and help me plan and prioritise my weeks and days. For the most part, I had something that worked. However, I had to acknowledge I needed something different now I am a father to three! Something that would help me plan life — with the perspectives of fatherhood and a busy career.

I’d decided I wanted something handwritten as opposed to something digital. Mobile phones, tablets and laptops are doorways to a world of distractions. I knew that if I used an app, I would inevitably get distracted by the many other things in my devices. Probably email or Twitter — the two usual culprits.

So! I needed something to motivate, plan and prioritise. Plus it must be ‘paper-based’.

Introducing the Rocketbook Panda Planner

The Rocketbook comes with a high quality microfibre cloth and Pilot Frixion pen.
My newly unboxed Panda Planner

After some research, I came across the Rocketbook Panda Planner. Described as a planner for ‘those who want an endlessly reusable planner to last for years, if not a lifetime. The Rocketbook Panda Planner gets you organised so you can focus and hit your goals.’ That sounded just like what I needed.

The planner is split into a number of different page types to help you plan:

The Rocketbook Panda Planner has a number of sections to help you organise yourself.
Panda Planner page types

More importantly – it is reusable. I’d never considered a ‘re-usable’ notebook (and wasn’t aware they existed). It is however a fantastic idea. The entire book is essentially wipe clean. It’s a bit like a whiteboard meeting a book. This means there is no guilt from having another diary that will end up in a recycling bin. The real selling point of this wasn’t clear until I actually used it. The beautifully therapeutic moment you wipe away days and weeks of plans, achievements and reflections (there is an app to help you retain a digital copy).

Rocketbook allows you to write and organise your work before scanning it into the app and then wiping the book clean for reuse.
The Rocketbook process

Using the Rocketbook Panda Planner

I very much enjoyed the process of using the Panda Planner. I first worked through the goals and roadmap sections to plan the next quarter (3 months). I set out a number of ambitious work, research and personal goals. It also gave me a valuable opportunity to reflect on potential barriers. Here I noted that my three little ones may become barriers to progress – but it also helped me concretely write that it didn’t matter. As a parent – I needed to juggle that new balance and the Panda Planner helped me navigate this. It was helpful to pen some of this down and get to grips with my life’s new priorities. I am, perhaps, guilty of focusing on work too much – and the Panda Planner helped me bring some balance to that.

With the quarter prepared, I then moved towards weekly and daily sections. I particularly liked how they provided opportunity to undertake routines as part of the day. The daily planner (below) starts off asking what you are grateful for, and excited about — three items for each list. It also provided space for a daily affirmation. Not something I’d usually go for, but with three adopted children moving in, I was writing ‘I can do this’ a fair bit. For the evening is an opportunity to reflect on the day. Here you can record the wins for the day and take note of any opportunities to improve. The rest of the page is very much what you’d expect of a daily planner: priorities, schedule, tasks and notes.

The layout of a daily page

What I’m using

I’d recommend giving the Rocketbook Panda Planner a go. I’ve since expanded to utilise a standard Rocketbook for my general notes. You can write on them with any of the Pilot Frixion line of pens and markers. I’ve found the Frixion fineliners much better than the rollerball ones as they put less pressure on the Rocketbook pages. I think this has to work in favour of longevity.

‘Normal’ or ‘New normal’ —Reflections on getting back into in-person teaching

Written on a train on a phone – so forgive any typos. I’ll tidy up later!

Since 18th March last year (2020), all of my teaching has been online. Obviously, this was the right thing to do. Society closed. We didn’t really know much about the novel coronavirus first identified in 2019, we didn’t know much about transmission and vaccines were still a dream. The situation also developed rapidly. The government told us not to be worried about the virus, that it was of little concern. Two weeks later, we were in lockdown. For everyone in higher education, this led to a monumental pivot online. Like every university, Hull responded and followed governmental guidelines.

When the lockdown hit, I felt lucky to be based in the Skills Team at the University of Hull. As a team, we all had experience of teaching online. We also had the software, the tools and training to deliver a good online experience. Nothing needed to be procured. No training was needed. We just picked up and got on with things. I’m not saying that the switch to online teaching wasn’t challenging — but we had somewhat of a head start.

As the pandemic evolved over summer 2020 and cases plummeted, we were able to open our library — the Brynmor Jones. This was done with an abundance of caution, following all safety guidance and with a lot of risk assessing. We were one of the first HE libraries to re-open, recognising not all of our students had access to the technology or connection they required to be successful at home. The library formed an important part of social and cultural capital for some students — helping provide what they may not readily have. While open, as a library we also focused on safety, still delivering our support digitally. This meant that our service points were not staffed in the same way and we focused on self-help, live chat and query management. The library was primarily open for socially-distanced study.

While the library was open, teaching and appointments we’re still off the agenda. At the point of initial opening, we still kept these online. This doesn’t mean I’ve been working from home all this time. As soon as the Library re-opened last year, I was in the occasional day, usually once a week. I figured that if our frontline staff were in – I should show face too. I eased myself in. By January 2021, I committed to three days a week.

For most of the year, while I was on campus, my students weren’t. All classes will still online. In May 2021, we were able to offer face-to-face appointments again. It was strange (but lovely!) to see students again. I felt connected to my work again. It reminded me why I love my job — I’d missed that interaction more than I realised. While appointments slowly ticked over, class-based teaching, workshops and lectures face-to-face were still some time away. At this point, it meant that while none of us stopped teaching, many lecturers hadn’t ‘lectured’ or taught on campus for over a year. That’s a long time!

My timeline now lands on last week. The 6th September. My first on-campus teaching for over a year and a half.

I was a bit nervous. Not going to lie.

Was teaching in a room like ‘riding a bike?’. That is to say — can I easily pick it up again despite all this time away? As I walked over to the Cohen building, the nerves melted away to make rookie excitement. I was so excited I took a selfie to make the occasion – but decided to do this outside the building so the students didn’t think I was odd before I even started teaching them.

Yup! Me stood outside Cohen.

A quick photo later, I found myself stood in a room much larger than needed to facilitate some social distancing, I looked over a sea of faces (well… 25 faces), and I began to teach.

Thankfully. It was like riding a bike. I just fell back into that comfortable space at the front.

It struck me how odd it was being able to move and use body language again. It was surreal! I didn’t realise how limiting a webcam could be until I was freed from those constraints. I could gesture. I could easily point to my slide visuals. I wasn’t trapped behind a screen. Teaching in-person went beyond this freedom. It was easier — and I hope — better!

I was in the middle of explaining a model of criticality, and my students looked puzzled. I’d not explained it effectively. I’d lost some of the room. Immediately — I was able to change track and reframe my explanation. I could see the metaphorical lightbulbs switch on. They’d understood what I said. I’d explained better. I have missed that more than anything with online teaching. The tendency for students to not turn on webcams removes this valuable tool from educators. We can’t see how our students are doing. This, more than anything, I had missed.

It isn’t just about understanding or not. There are other visual queues to respond too. There were some clear points at which I could see students were a bit overwhelmed, worried or even frightened of the expectations ahead. However, in seeing this, I was also able to reassure them that we would support them to get there. They have a wall to climb, but we’ll help them build a ladder.

My final reflection focuses on energy. I’m well used to being on campus with my regular three days now part of my schedule. I had previously found it a tiring transition when I first adjusted from vegetating at home to being in the office. But I was past that. At least the main hit. Teaching, however, did exhaust me more than I expected. It takes a lot of physical energy. Standing, gesturing, thinking, watching, projecting my voice — as much as I loved my first session, I was sure tired after!!!

My advice to anyone easing back into campus is to be prepared. Getting out of the home for working is tiring. It’s an even bigger hit when you throw in some lectures.