A shrub garden bounded by logs.

Taking to the woods for Forest School Level 1

I had the great pleasure of undertaking my level 1 Forest School training last week. It’s something I’ve had on my wish list for some time, and I finally carved out a day to commit to this. Forest School aims to deliver a long-term, learner-centred experience that supports exploration and scaffolded risk taking in a natural outdoor wooded area. In undertaking the training, I aim to be able to deliver such sessions in the future – but that is something a few levels away yet!

The training was delivered by Dr Jo Traunter and Kerrie Lee, both colleagues in the School of Education at the University of Hull. The training itself was also hosted in the beautiful grounds of Thwaite Hall Botanic Gardens in Cottingham. Forest School training at the University is currently only available to staff/students – so a good reason to study at Hull ????

So what did we get up to at Forest School?

I had no idea the Thwaite Hall Botanic Gardens has a fully-equipped classroom. It was a brilliant setting, and we were introduced to the concept of Forest School and where it originated. The ethos of ‘everyone helps’ hit straight at the start, as everyone helped to set up desks, boil kettles and sort out the chairs. The session was brief – giving us chance to get outside and cover the essentials of level 1. Forest School is based on six principles: long term, nature, community, risk, hollistic learning and leadership. More can be found out on the Forest School Association website.

Site safety walk

We started by walking the site, highlighting any potential dangers and identifying the boundaries. As Forest School aims to give learners freedom (and bounded risks), the ability for them to navigate freely is important – within the identified boundaries.

We also played some games to help ensure no-one gets lost. Everyone was given a number, and as a register, we’d each shout our numbers in turn. The Leaders were 1 and 15, ensuring they started and ended the roll call. This was a much quicker way of ensuring everyone stayed together. We also played the 1-2-3 where are you hide and seek safety game.

A grass field with some trees - identifying the boundaries of the Forest School.

With all the safety covered, we were able to work together to carry all the tools and other required items into the outdoor area for the Forest School session.

Den building

Yes! We got to build outdoor shelters. We were given access to some tarpaulin, pegs, strings and scissors. Other than that, we had our creativity and whatever materials we could find. One of the rules of Forest School is to leave no mark, so we were not to pull down any branches or damage the natural environment. An important part of the end of the day was also to disband the shelters! Building the shelter was a brilliant team-based activity, and we really got into it! I mean… I would have happily done this all day.

Lighting a fire

Before starting with the fire, there was lots of focus on how to keep safe. A rope was used to set boundaries, ensuring no one gets near to the fire – a useful reminder for when working with children (and also in the ethos of safe and managed risks!).

I’ve never used flint and steel before, so was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to give this a go! We all were given a bull dog clip to bury in the ground, and a cotton wool ball to hold with it. We were able to practice setting the cotton wool ball on fire, before throwing the whole thing into the fire pit. As the fire began to take, we all gathered dry wood to build it up. Once fully blazing, we then had marshmallows and crumpets to toast. DELICIOUS! (Also a big thanks to Kerrie and Jo for bringing along gluten-free snacks too, which helped me feel super included!).

A toasted marshmallow. Very much in the spirit of Forest School.

Tool talks

As part of Forest School level 1, we had to learn the use of at least three tools. The key message on the use of tools was focused around safe usage! We learned to use knives to whittle and shears and saws to cut. When utilising any tool, we stool in a plastic hoop to indicate the safety zone. This is a useful way to help children keep a safe distance from each other. Part of the fun here was to state we are ‘Activating the Blood Zone’ – a useful phrase to help kids remember. For each tool, we had to wear a safety glove, wear a high-vis vest and stand in the hoop. This all helped to focus on safety first.

Doing all this felt a little silly for an all-adult group. But it wasn’t. It was a good reminder of how to keep safety to the fore, allowing young people to experiment as part of their Forest School experience, but to do so safely.

Identifying foliage

An ongoing part of our day was to identify different plants and trees. While this session was run in Spring, there was more leaf litter than leaves of the trees so we used Autumnal identification sheets. It was actually harder than I expected, but at this point in the season the leaves were pretty degraded. I also had some fun experiment with AI identification – but that felt a little out of the spirit of Forest School.

Heading back to the city

As a group, we had an absolutely amazing day in the Forest School. However, sadly, the day had to come an end. In the spirit of Forest School, we worked to clear up all our mess, take down our shelters and ensure we left no trace – just footprints. I really can’t wait to start level 2 – though have to wait for a new season (as it has to be in a different season to level 1).

Growth

My First 6 Months as a Lecturer: A Journey of Growth and Connection

As I look back on my first trimester as a Lecturer in Education Studies, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude. After working for a decade in Higher Education in various capacities, transitioning to an academic role has been a refreshing and rewarding experience. In this blog post, I would like to share my reflections on the first six months of my journey as a lecturer. I’ll delve into my interactions with students, my growth as an educator, and my anticipation for the future. This long overdue post continues the blog series I’ve written reflecting on my new career.

While I am not new to the University or education, in moving from Learning Development to Education Studies, I am joining a new community of practice (Wenger, 1998). I still feel I have a lot to learn in this broader field, and I have supplemented my academic memberships to include the British Educational Research Association. I’m also renewing my efforts to get involved with the Society for Research into Higher Education, as well as retaining my scholarship of learning development via ALDinHE.

The student community

One of the most significant highlights of my teaching experience has been the connection with my students. I’ve commented on this multiple times before, but their enthusiasm, curiosity, and dedication have been genuinely inspiring, and it represents something I didn’t get as a Learning Developer – at least not in a sustained way. As a lecturer, I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing my students’ creativity, especially during workshops and from marking written assessments. Reading their reflections has not only allowed me to observe their growth but, thanks to the international nature of my students, it has also provided me with valuable insights into other places on the planet. As I further integrate into the School of Education, my interactions with students have fostered my understanding of their needs, which I can now better address in the planning and delivery of my teaching. This is refreshing also – as I speak to a consistent audience, education. No need to wear multiple hats as a Learning Developer.

Supervision

Personal and research supervision have been very new aspects of my role. While I encountered pastoral issues in Learning Development, it was not part of the remit and so I would always refer the student to student support services and personal supervisors. As a Learning Developer, I actively supported research but never had the deciding role. As a Learning Developer, I would muse on ethical issues with students; I am now signing off applications as an academic. This was the kind of challenge I needed. Teaching has been a staple of my career as a Learning Developer, but there are new things to learn and do as a supervisor.

I have found personal supervision to be a surprisingly fulfilling aspect of my new role. Engaging in one-on-one discussions with my students has allowed me to establish a deeper connection with them and provide targeted guidance tailored to their individual needs (Knowles et al., 2014). Personal supervision sessions have led to many meaningful conversations, enabling me to better understand the challenges and aspirations of each student.

Research supervision has been really rewarding with my undergraduates. Although I am only supervising three students, it’s been a great way to start before heading towards PGT supervision later this month. I am genuinely looking forward to supervising master’s research projects. Though I know it will be hard work, I am excited to see the innovative and ground-breaking research our students will produce. These projects allow students to delve deep into a topic of their choice, and I am honoured to guide them through this process. I plan to attend a training session with the Teaching Excellence Academy to help develop my supervision practice. I’m also looking forward to further experimenting with OneNote as a means to manage supervision.

Internationalisation of my practice

Working with international students has been an enriching and eye-opening aspect of my new position. I have gained a wealth of knowledge from their diverse perspectives and experiences, particularly concerning the different educational systems they have been exposed to. This has broadened my understanding of global educational practices and has given me the tools to incorporate these insights into my own teaching approach. As a result, I am now better equipped to support and guide students from various cultural backgrounds, enhancing the inclusivity of my teaching methods. This is, however, a long journey – and something I expect to vary as international students vary and we attract from different regions over time.

Curriculum

The opportunity to develop and shape the content of brand-new modules has been invigorating. Working on the third-year dissertation and research module has been great as nothing is written, giving freedom to develop something brand new. I’ve really been able to contribute to the support of literature-based dissertations and can’t wait to develop this further. Being able to draw upon my expertise and experience, I have been able to design courses that are relevant, engaging, and catered to the needs of my students. This process has been challenging and gratifying, pushing me to continuously expand my knowledge and skills. As I look forward to the year ahead, I am particularly excited to support the curriculum design process for the new master’s program. I am eager to contribute my insights and ideas to this innovative program, which promises to provide students with a comprehensive and cutting-edge education.

I have enjoyed researching contemporary topics and incorporating them into the curriculum, ensuring that our students receive an education that prepares them for the ever-evolving world of education studies. My numerous posts on Artificial Intelligence and education are good examples of such learning and experimentation. This emerging technology presents countless possibilities for enhancing teaching and learning, from adaptive learning systems to AI-driven assessment tools. I am eager to integrate it into my practice further and observe how it transforms the educational landscape.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, my first trimester as a lecturer in Education Studies has been an incredible journey marked by growth, connection, and discovery. I am thankful for the relationships I have formed with my students and new colleagues, the personal growth I have experienced, and the opportunities that lie ahead. My increased understanding of global educational practices, the incorporation of my AI into my understanding of future learning environments, and the development of new curricula have all contributed to my growth as an educator.

As I move forward in my career, I am eager to continue expanding my horizons and making a lasting impact on the field of education. By staying current with the latest research and trends, engaging in meaningful collaborations, and fostering a genuine connection with my students, I hope to create a learning environment that empowers and inspires future educators and scholars.

Through my experiences thus far, I have developed a newfound appreciation for the immense responsibility and privilege of being a lecturer. As I continue to grow and evolve in this role, I am committed to maintaining the highest standards of professionalism, fostering a spirit of curiosity and passion in my students, and contributing to advancing the field of education studies. With anticipation and determination, I look forward to the many opportunities and challenges in my journey as an educator.

Reference List:

Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2014) The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Routledge.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.

AI drawn fish and chips

Using AI GTP-4 to grade & linguistically analyse text

In my final experiment of the day with GTP-4, I am using the earlier AI-generated blog post, Debunking the myth of Learning Styles as the base. Peter Hartley spurred this post, acknowledging there was more fun yet to be had with GTP4 and this base material. He was right (and I promise the image at the top of this article will make sense by the end!).

First up – let’s see how the AI grades itself.

Using GTP4 to grade writing produced by GTP4

As I still have the entire conversation detailed earlier in AI-led blogging: An experiment with GTP4, DALL-E & Grammarly, I was able to prompt the grading directly. I asked:

Grade your earlier message that is Titled: Debunking the Learning Styles Myth: A Call for Evidence-Based Educational Practices

You are a Lecturer working at a prestigious university in the United Kingdom. You are to grade this work on a number scale from 0 to 100. A score below 40 represents a fail. You will need to provide detailed feedback to justify your grade, and you should identify areas of improvement to help your student take their work further next time.

Prompt

And the grade it gave itself?

Title: Debunking the Learning Styles Myth: A Call for Evidence-Based Educational Practices Grade: 85/100

Feedback:

Overall, this article is well-written, presenting a coherent and compelling argument against the concept of learning styles. The language is formal and appropriate for a specialist audience, and the structure is clear and organized. The article also demonstrates a good understanding of the relevant literature.

Areas of improvement:

  1. Depth of analysis: While the article covers the main arguments against learning styles, it would benefit from a more in-depth analysis of specific studies that debunk the concept, providing a more comprehensive critique.
  2. Counterarguments: Addressing potential counterarguments and providing refutations can strengthen your argument. Consider discussing the reasons behind the popularity of learning styles and possible alternative explanations for the observed effects.
  3. Practical implications: It would be beneficial to discuss specific examples of how evidence-based practices can be implemented in educational settings, giving readers a clearer understanding of the alternatives to learning styles.
  4. Source integration: While the article cites relevant sources, it could benefit from a more seamless integration of these sources into the text. Using direct quotes or paraphrasing specific ideas from the sources can help build a more robust argument.
  5. Originality: Although the article presents a well-established critique of learning styles, try to incorporate more original ideas or unique perspectives to make the argument more engaging and thought-provoking for your audience.

In summary, this article demonstrates strong writing skills, a clear structure, and an understanding of the relevant literature. To improve the article, focus on deepening the analysis, addressing counterarguments, discussing practical implications, integrating sources more effectively, and incorporating original ideas. Keep up the good work and continue to develop your critical thinking and writing skills.

GTP4

Evaluating the feedback

Not a bad evaluation. In reality, an actual university assignment probably wouldn’t score this well in presenting only one view (unless that was the task). It is correct in that counterarguments are required.

It is also interesting to see it suggest the use of direct quotes – something we’d generally ask students to avoid in order to demonstrate their own understanding.

The nod towards originality and depth of analysis very much capture the goals required for higher-level grades.


Read More
Growth mindset: A visual representation of a growth mindset, such as a seedling growing into a tree, to emphasize the importance of fostering a growth mindset and avoiding stereotypes associated with learning styles.

Debunking the Learning Styles Myth: A Call for Evidence-Based Educational Practices

This post stands as an independent article on learning styles, and I wanted to publish it as such. However, it is part of a wider experiment as this whole article – text and images are generated by an AI. Find out more here: AI-led blogging: An experiment with GTP4, DALL-E & Grammarly

Introduction to Learning Styles

Learning styles have been a popular topic in education for decades, with various models suggesting that individuals have different preferences for how they process and absorb information. Some of the most well-known models include Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning styles and others like Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

However, the validity of learning styles as a concept has been widely debated among researchers and educators. Numerous studies have attempted to validate the existence of learning styles, but the evidence supporting their effectiveness is weak, and some even suggest that the concept is a myth. Critics argue that the idea of learning styles may oversimplify the complex process of learning and lead to ineffective teaching methods.

Instead, contemporary research points to the importance of adaptable evidence-based teaching practices that focus on learners’ diverse needs. This includes employing various teaching methods, engaging multiple senses, and addressing different skill levels rather than focusing solely on learning styles. In this way, educators can create a more inclusive and effective learning environment that benefits all students, regardless of their preferences.

The concept of learning styles has enjoyed widespread popularity in education for decades, despite a lack of empirical evidence supporting its efficacy. This post aims to challenge the legitimacy of learning styles and provide a compelling argument for why educators and researchers should be critical of their propagation. Learning styles ultimately harm learners, and the education community should embrace evidence-based practices instead.

1 – Lack of Empirical Evidence for learning styles

A cornerstone of any effective educational theory is a robust body of empirical evidence. However, numerous studies have failed to provide conclusive support for the existence of learning styles or their impact on learning outcomes (Coffield et al., 2004; Pashler et al., 2008; Willingham et al., 2015). Meta-analyses have revealed a consistent lack of empirical evidence to validate learning styles (Coffield et al., 2004; Pashler et al., 2008), indicating that the concept is built on shaky foundations.

2 – Oversimplification of Learning

The idea of learning styles oversimplifies the complex and multifaceted process of learning (Geake, 2008; Hattie, 2009). Learning is not solely determined by individual preferences but is influenced by a myriad of factors, including prior knowledge, cognitive abilities, motivation, and socio-cultural context. By reducing learning to a set of static styles, educators may inadvertently neglect these crucial aspects of the learning process, hindering their ability to cater to students’ diverse needs (Dunn & Griggs, 2000).

3 – Perpetuation of Stereotypes

The propagation of learning styles may reinforce stereotypes and an overly deterministic view of learners (Scott, 2010). By labelling students as “visual,” “auditory,” or “kinesthetic” learners, educators may inadvertently constrain students to a particular mode of learning, limiting their potential for growth and development (Dweck, 2006). This typecasting may contribute to self-fulfilling prophecies and hinder students from exploring alternative learning strategies, ultimately hindering their academic progress (Dweck, 2006).

Classroom diversity: A photo of a diverse group of students engaged in various learning activities. This image can demonstrate the need for evidence-based practices that cater to individual differences, rather than relying on learning styles.

4 – Misallocation of Resources

The continued acceptance of learning styles may misallocate educational institutions’ resources (Paschler et al., 2008). Schools and districts divert valuable resources away from evidence-based practices by investing time and money in training teachers and developing learning materials based on a concept with weak empirical support (Hattie, 2009). This misallocation has significant implications for the quality of education and students’ academic success.

5 – The Opportunity Cost of Ignoring Evidence-Based Practices

By propagating learning styles, the education community risks neglecting evidence-based practices that have been shown to improve learning outcomes (Hattie, 2009). These practices include formative assessment, feedback, metacognitive strategies, and collaborative learning (Hattie, 2009; Zimmerman, 2002). By focusing on debunked theories such as learning styles, educators may miss opportunities to implement strategies that genuinely improve student learning.

Conclusion

The persistence of learning styles in educational discourse is a concerning phenomenon that warrants critical examination. Given the lack of empirical evidence and the potential harm caused by the propagation of learning styles, we urge educators and researchers to abandon this outdated concept and embrace evidence-based practices. Doing so can create a more inclusive, effective, and empirically grounded educational environment that benefits all learners.

References

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre.

Dunn, R., & Griggs, S. A. (2000). Practical approaches to using learning styles in higher education. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Geake, J. (2008). Neuromythologies in education. Educational Research, 50(2), 123-133.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

Scott, C. (2010). The enduring appeal of “learning styles.” Australian Journal of Education, 54(1), 5-17.

Willingham, D. T., Hughes, E. M., & Dobolyi, D. G. (2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching of Psychology, 42(3), 266-271.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(2), 64-70.

A box of bricks from the LEGO BYGGLEK Set

LEGO Serious Play: The IKEA & LEGO Dream Team

This blog post discusses the possibility of the IKEA LEGO sets for LEGO Serious Play. In 2018, IKEA and LEGO announced they were going to play together. This led to the development of the BYGGLEK LEGO collection, available exclusively at IKEA stores. This product range included a series of LEGO storage boxes and a set of 201 LEGO bricks designed for free play. As described by IKEA:

Creating more space for play
The BYGGLEK LEGO® collection offers play storage solutions and a LEGO brick set unique to IKEA. The boxes easily find harmony with your home so the creations can be put on display, keeping the story alive until the next play time.

IKEA website

Having used LEGO Serious Play as an aspect of my research and work for some years, I’ve recently considered how the BYGGLEK LEGO collection can be used for LEGO Serious Play. Before I get into this, however, a brief introduction to LEGO Serious Play:

What is LEGO Serious Play?

If you’ve not used LEGO Serious Play before, it is a creative approach to meeting facilitation that uses LEGO bricks as a form of collaboration and communication. It has a track record of success across education and business – shaking up traditional meetings and learning opportunities with the use of LEGO. This has taken it beyond meetings and into the classroom and sphere of research.

Think about all the times you’ve set out Flipchart and pens – and most groups struggle to settle on a scribe – ‘You do it’ – ‘No! You!’. This doesn’t happen with LEGO Serious Play. Everyone is in! I’ve used LEGO Serious Play with participants of all ages for research, learning and business strategy purposes.

Using the LEGO Serious Play Method
Serious work: How to facilitate meetings with LEGO Serious Play Method
How to facilitate LEGO Serious Play online

IKEA and LEGO Serious Play

So far, my LEGO Serious Play practice has focused on a large collection of bricks that all participants share. I blogged about the sets used to build my LEGO Serious Play collection, and since 2021, that collection has been the staple of my LEGO Serious Play kit. I’ve recently wanted to explore individual LEGO Serious Play kits so each participant has their own bricks. This can reduce the scrabble for bricks between participants and reduce much of the noise in the session (something some participants can find distracting).

There is also a potential for equity. One of the LEGO Serious Play practitioners I worked with insisted on participants having the same bricks. This raises the question – what bricks to use? My colleague went to a LEGO Store and used the Pick a Brick wall to build a collection of identical sets. This has always been too risky for my liking – too reliant on the store’s stock of bricks. It’s also a bit of an administrative hassle, especially if the store is busy. Then came the BYGGLEK LEGO Set:

A photo of the BYGGLEK LEGO set - a white box features both the LEGO and IKEA logos.

Digging into the BYGGLEK set

This IKEA-exclusive LEGO set contains 201 bricks, including a brick remover. Within the set there are a range of plates, bricks, a door, some windows, a range of small bricks and enough parts for two Minifigures. As I’ve come to get to know this set in closer detail, I’ve become more convinced it’s a perfect range for LEGO Serious Play. It has a really nice range of bricks, allowing participants to communicate a whole range of ideas. So you can get an idea, I’ve laid out the bricks in this box below:

A box full of the BYGGLEK LEGO set to demonstrate how it could be used for LEGO Serious Play.

At 201 bricks, it feels a really nice size for individual use. I love the variety of bricks included in the set. There is a handful of regular bricks, but the body of the set includes a variety of brick colours and sizes. It has some nice, intricate details. I love the inclusion of some leaves and green elements alongside some food pieces, windows and a door.

Just the right size and configuration

This catalogue image unintentionally shows some potential LEGO Serious Play uses for the set.

This catalogue image gives you a good idea of the scale of the set – or the scale of the models that can be built with it. It isn’t enough LEGO to make the larger, more dramatic models – but it’s good enough for some detailed and intricate models (which is my favourite kind – every brick has meaning. The two Minifigures are nice and echo the days of plainer characters, a contrast to a lot of the licensed figures that dominate now.

While there is debate over using Minifigures for LEGO Serious Play, I’ve always included them in my sets. Yes – it can funnel participant responses around more concrete than the metaphorical use of LEGO, it can also enable the metaphorical messages. I’ve had too many participants wasting time building something to represent people or a person. Minifigures just cut straight to it! As mentioned above, the plainness of these figures also stops the message from getting conflated with a licensed character.

Keeping things tidy – the BYGGLEK Storage boxes

IKEA brought their famed trend to the BYGGLEK collection – flat-pack LEGO! Yes! They’ve managed to create flat-pack LEGO in a way only IKEA could. The BYGGLEK collection includes four different sizes of LEGO storage box. The two smaller sizes are fully assembled and come in a box of three (one small box, two extra small boxes). The two larger size boxes are the ones requiring assembly. It’s a tool-less construction, and the pieces click well together to create a solid box, perfect for storing LEGO. More importantly, the box lids double as LEGO base plates. The boxes themselves can also be used as part of the build, and the larger boxes have LEGO-compatible recesses.

The BYGGLEK Storage box

So – back to LEGO Serious Play! The medium-size BYGGLEK box (26x18x12 cm) is great for storing those individual LEGO Serious Play kits. The BYGGLEK LEGO set fits within the box nicely and includes some nice LEGO-compatible studs that can be used in models. There is also enough space for digging through the pile of bricks to find what you need – within the box. The box itself can also be used as part of the models, of course. Unfortunately, the lid sits on top of the box – it doesn’t click securely. As such, I tend to use elastic bands to hold things together when I’m on the move. Not a great look – but it does the job.

Over to you!

I hope this post has been useful! Let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear if anyone else has used the IKEA + LEGO combination for LEGO Serious Play ????

A robot delivering a lecture - drawn by the AI DALL-E

How has Higher Ed slumbered into an Artificial Intelligence Crisis?

It’s an honest question. Everywhere I look, there are discussion threads, social media posts and emails from Higher Education professionals obsessing over artificial intelligence. Most of these communications focus on ChatGPT, but some acknowledge other tools exist. These ‘new developments’ in artificial intelligence have prompted a dramatic response from the education sector. It has been described as a crisis, a moral panic, an ‘end to homework‘ and a threat to higher education. I think my favourite contribution this year comes from The Mail, which announces artificial intelligence could make ‘mankind extinct’.

Okay. Some perspective is needed. But my real question is this: How did the Higher Education (HE) sector not see this coming?

Artificial Intelligence has powered your work for years

In the UK, the vast majority of Universities use Microsoft (Office) 365 and the Windows operating system. Microsoft’s Outlook powers our emails, SharePoint/OneDrive stores our files, Teams manages our collaboration, and Office keeps us productive. Since 2016, Microsoft’s ‘Office Intelligent Services‘ have seamlessly integrated artificial intelligence-powered features into our everyday working lives. For most HE practitioners, the developments in artificial intelligence have been staring us in the face. Literally. The documents we write, the slides we develop, the emails we read, and the Teams calls we make have all been enhanced by Artificial Intelligence for YEARS.

Artificial intelligence in Microsoft (Office) 365:

  • Read aloud has turned text-to-speech, enhanced to use tone and inflexion.
  • Dictate has enabled speech-to-text, allowing people to talk instead of type. This includes
  • Optical Character Recognition has helped turn image-based text into readable characters.
  • Presenter Coach has analyzed people’s speech, language and body language to deliver real-time presentation feedback in PowerPoint.
  • Slide Designer has taken draft slides and automatically added design elements and images to make slides more effective.
  • Accessibility Checker has allowed the automatic generation of ALT text for images, using computer vision.
  • Microsoft Viva has provided detailed insights: reading your emails to identify unfinished tasks and checking your calendar to provide useful documents for meetings – in real-time.
  • Subtitles and Transcription have enabled PowerPoint and Teams to provide real-time subtitles for presentations, calls and recordings.
  • Excel has offered enhanced chart types (i.e. Maps) and real-time, streamed data (i.e. Stocks).
  • Editor has offered enhanced spelling and grammar advice, and has extended to use text prediction to save time when writing.
  • Translate has offered real-time translation from text, images and speech across up to 100 languages (and variants).
  • Scheduler has coordinated meetings between people – and even booked rooms.
  • Natural language queries in Excel have allowed people to use questions, not formulas.
  • Search enhanced with AI when using Bing.com
This screenshot shows how Viva Cortana emails, PowerPoint Presenter Coach, Immersive Reader, Editor, Designer, Alt Text and Translator surface in Office.
A series of Microsoft Office Intelligent Services

The examples above are just workplace, education and consumer applications. In industry, Microsoft-powered AI has been detecting facing, monitoring crops, enhancing video games, fighting fraud and detecting faults across hundreds of sectors. I can understand people not being aware of some of these applications – but the stuff listed above has been right in front of our eyes.

It was some relief to see ‘This shouldn’t be a surprise‘ published while I write this post!

How can any of these artificial intelligence developments be a surprise?

So. Reflecting on the list above, ‘Intelligent Services’ have supported reading and writing across the Microsoft (Office) 365 platform for over eight years(!!!). If you’ve been using Microsoft Office productivity applications like Outlook, Word and PowerPoint – I cannot understand how ChatGPT can be a surprise. Office applications have started:

  1. correcting your writing and predicting what you will say
  2. reading your emails to manage your diary and tasks,
  3. listening to you, so you don’t need to write,
  4. automatically making things accessible with subtitling and computer vision

The list goes on. If artificial intelligence has been doing all this for years – how is ChatGPT such a leap?

I can understand how ChatGPT feels like a significant step up from previous chatbots. But I don’t see how it can be all that surprising when we reflect on those daily developments and how artificial intelligence has slowly become part of the everyday. It isn’t just at work or in education. Your last test at the hospital might have been screened by artificial intelligence. Every time you make a purchase, the transactions are scrutinised by artificial intelligence for anomalies. It really is everywhere. I get how the quality of written response is shocking – but given what we’ve seen happen in Microsoft (Office) 365 over the last few years – I don’t think we can call it a surprise.

Why the last-minute response?

I honestly do not know the answer to this question. The radical potential of artificial intelligence has been staring everyone in the face for years. Every email. Every document. Every Teams call. Every PowerPoint. Artificial intelligence has been prompting, pushing, helping and enhancing for years. How can ChatGPT be such a surprise? I am absolutely shocked that schools, colleges, and universities are so late in reacting to the challenge artificial intelligence poses to traditional assessment. This should not be a surprise. Not at all. I cannot understand how future scanning and business planning did not identify this as part of long-term strategies. Emergency planning and task groups should not be necessary! Educational policies should have been prepared years ago.

But they weren’t.

As such, the kneejerk reaction has been to ban artificial intelligence in many educational establishments. Given the circumstances – this is probably the right answer. For now. In future, I urge educational leaders to reconsider artificial intelligence and look at how it can be used alongside the curriculum.

Artificial intelligence in the curriculum

Our students will be leaving the educational world to join workplaces that use artificial intelligence. It might not even be labelled as such – but it will be there in the background. The example of Microsoft (Office) 365 in this very post is a great example of this in application. As such, we need to equip our students for this. Not just the practicalities of using artificial intelligence – but the difficult questions around ethics and responsibility of use too. These skills cannot be developed under a ban.

  • Artificial intelligence reproduces the biases of society. Our students must be equipped to challenge this.
  • Artificial intelligence uses Machine Learning – but this is often targeted at a range of information- including high-quality, questionable and poor-quality sources. Students need to be able to identify fact from fiction.
  • Artificial intelligence supports accessibility, it can translate, see and write for anyone who needs support with it. While not perfect, those features cannot be turned off.

It’s fair to say – the news isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s been nice to see some new articles discussing how artificial intelligence won’t hinder creativity, will help schools teach skills for university and how it can be integrated into teaching. It is also interesting to see reflections on the OpenAI website (ChatGPT’s creator) about how it can support streamlined and personalised teaching – amongst many opportunities and threats.

The last word – The future of Higher Education with ChatGPT

I couldn’t help but close this post by handing over the conclusion to ChatGPT. I asked it to tell me the best-case scenario for the inclusion of artificial intelligence in university education.

The best-case scenario

In the best-case scenario, artificial intelligence (AI) will have a positive impact on university education. AI will help to improve the quality and efficiency of education by providing students with personalized learning experiences. AI-driven tutoring systems will be able to analyze a student’s performance and give immediate feedback and recommendations for improvement. AI can also be used to create adaptive learning systems that adjust the difficulty of tasks based on a student’s progress, allowing students to move at their own pace and make the most of their learning experience.

AI can also be used to automate administrative tasks, such as grading, making it easier for professors to focus on teaching and providing students with the best possible learning experience. AI-enabled analytics can be used to identify students at risk of dropping out, so appropriate interventions can be put in place to increase their chances of success. Finally, AI can be used to offer more engaging learning experiences, such as interactive simulations and augmented reality. All of this will enable universities to provide a higher quality of education while reducing costs and increasing student satisfaction.

(ChatGPT, 2023 – Published by OpenAI)

…and the worst-case scenario?


In the worst-case scenario, artificial intelligence (AI) could have a detrimental impact on university education. AI-driven tutoring systems could be overly rigid, unable to adapt to individual students’ needs, and lead to a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. AI-enabled analytics could be used to track student progress and create an environment of surveillance and control, where students feel that their every move is being monitored and judged. In addition, AI-driven automation of administrative tasks could lead to job losses, as universities reduce their staff numbers in favor of automated systems. This could lead to a decrease in the quality of education, as universities focus on cutting costs rather than on providing students with the best possible learning experience. Finally, AI-enabled simulations and augmented reality could lead to a decrease in critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as students become reliant on pre-programmed systems. All of this could lead to a decrease in student satisfaction and an overall decline in the quality of university education.

(ChatGPT, 2023 – Published by OpenAI)

Okay – I had a bit of fun with the conclusion. But ChatGPT makes a valid point… there is a lot of potential disruption – good or bad – coming to HE. The question still remains:

How did most HE practitioners not see this coming?

Answers in the comments ?

Also see: Using AI to summerise emails: A use case for text-davinci-003

Teaching philosophy

The teaching philosophies of Learning Development

Introduction to Teaching Philosophy Statements

As part of undertaking my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, I had to produce a Teaching Philosophy Statement. I’m drawn to the approach the University of San Diego (2023) takes to introduce the Teaching Philosophy Statement, which I think sets the tone well:

The life of a teacher is an extremely busy one. From early morning until long after dark, teachers dedicate the better part of their day to their students. Amid the lesson planning, the snack breaks, the recess duty, grading and the myriad other daily tasks, it can be easy to lose sight of the why of teaching. 

Why are you drawn to the classroom, and what is it about your love of teaching that makes it a fulfilling career? What’s the overarching philosophy that guides your teaching practice? Even on the busiest school days, every teacher should be able to explain their “why” by returning to their teaching philosophy.

(University of San Diego, 2023)

A Teaching Philosophy Statement is absolutely something all Higher Education practitioners can reflect upon. It is not just the realm of academics. A teaching philosophy statement sets out core beliefs about the purpose of teaching, it sets out an individual’s approach and justifies why this is their approach. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable activity!

Lee – why share your Teaching Philosophy Statement now?

This is a good question! After all, I’ve technically left Learning Development. But, I have two very good reasons for sharing this now.

  1. I want to call on Learning Developers to write their Teaching Philosophy Statements and share them. Do it now! This will provide a rich discussion about the teaching philosophy of Learning Development. It will reflect the diversity of the profession, and allow further discussion around the values established by ALDinHE and how they are applied in the profession.
  2. I must acknowledge my teaching philosophy is changing. I am now a Lecturer in Education Studies. I want to share my Teaching Philosophy Statement as it stood a year ago. I promise to re-visit this in another blog post and update my statement for my new context. It will provide an opportunity to reflect on any similarities and differences. I think this is an exciting way to continue reflecting on that transition from thirdspace professional towards academic.

This is why my post is titled the ‘teaching philosophies’ of Learning Development. I think we need to acknowledge these statements will be numerous and diverse – just like the profession. Learning Development is a profession I still very much care about. While I may now work as a Lecturer in Education Studies, a core part of my scholarship and research will be dedicated to Learning Development. It’s why I am still involved closely with ALDinHE – and am a member of LearnHigher and the JLDHE Editorial Board.

So! Here it is – my teaching philosophy from my time as a Learning Developer…


My Teaching Philosophy Statement (2022)

My aspirations

As a Learning Developer, I feel my aspirations are very driven by my profession. Hilsdon (2011:14) defines Learning Development as the “teaching, tutoring, research, design and production of learning materials, as well as involvement in staff development, policy-making and other consultative activities” in support of student academic success. However, I believe student success can never be built on dependency, so for me, effective Learning Development must also build student independence and self-efficacy. As much as I aspire to help students, my true goal is for students to become self-sufficient so they do not need me.

Philosophical underpinning

The signature pedagogy of learning development is arguably academic literacies (Lea & Street, 1998; 2006). This approach acknowledges that writing, learning, and other academic practices are not isolated ‘skills’, but are complicated literacies situated within disciplinary discourses and power frameworks (Lea & Street, 1998). Acknowledging these complexities is vital for me to identify and confront what is not taught or is assumed – constituents of the null (Kazemi et al., 2020) and hidden curriculum (Hinchcliffe, 2020). As a Learning Developer, I work within the hidden curriculum to expose and challenge it. My role as a 3rd space professional (see: McIntosh & Nutt, 2022) is very much an enabler.

Teaching methods and assessment

The most established teaching method in learning development is the one-to-one appointment. As learning is both a complicated and individual process, such appointments allow students to engage in these complexities with full acknowledgement of what they already know and understand. As represented by Webster (2018), both students and Learning Developers bring knowledge to such appointments and operate with different levels of agency. Depending on the appointment, this can frame my role as mentor, listener, teacher, and coach. I often have to informally assess students to determine how to best support them, and which of those roles I might need to take.

The most significant challenge has been scaling Learning Development beyond appointments to help more students, and there are three approaches I have taken. Firstly, there is workshop-based instruction, which allows similar principles from appointments to be applied in a group situation, extending capacity. Second is the creation of self-support resources like University of Hull (2021) SkillsGuides. These allow students to access help at a time that is convenient. Finally, there is ‘integrated practice’ which involves directly teaching in timetabled sessions as part of the curriculum. Integrated practice is arguably the best and most inclusive way to increase access to Learning Development.

While I do not set or mark student work, I do have a role in assessment. One common task involves helping students prepare for an assessment set as part of their course. This can be as simple as demystifying the essay in an appointment or teaching a whole class the principles of public communication to help them write a wiki article. I also support students with formative feedback to help them develop their response to an assessment, or provide them summative feedback on a previously marked piece of work to help them develop further. For me, this is all about supporting student learning.

Inclusivity at the heart

Inclusivity is a core value of my practice. I have worked hard to promote inclusive practices, helping ensure students can be successful no matter their background, neurodiversity, or protected characteristics. This goes beyond legal obligation – it is simply the only ethical approach to teaching. Furthermore, I aspire to uphold the ALDinHE[1] (2018) Manifesto for Learning Development, which strives to increase participation in HE and legitimise different forms of student knowledge. As I work across all disciplines taught at Hull, I need to respect different approaches to knowledge too.

Looking to the future

For me, the PCAP is an opportunity to improve my teaching further. I now have over 10 years of experience working in HE, and I still have things to learn. I’m proud of my Senior Fellowship with the HEA and fully intend to work towards Principle Fellowship in the future. I’m also keen to maintain my professional accreditations with ALDinHE and Microsoft Education, as well as gain my accreditation with the Association of Learning Technology (ALT).


[1] Association of Learning Development in Higher Education – the professional body for learning developers

Writing your own Teaching Philosophy Statement

As I shared in my introduction, I’d love to see more Teaching Philosophy Statements shared from Learning Developers. If you want to know where to start, check out this guide: What Is a Teaching Philosophy? Examples and Prompts. Please share yours and pop the link in the comments section below.

References

ALDinHE (2018) Manifesto for Learning Development. Education, Association for Learning Development in Higher Education. Available online: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KJnC7e2l5xnA44FWsOxaKkKNx4SQKlX2/view [Accessed 19/04/2022].

Hilsdon, J. (2011) What is learning development?, in Hartley, P., Hilsdon, J., Keenan, C., Sinfield, S. & Verity, M. (eds), Learning development in higher education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 13-27.

Hinchcliffe, T. (ed), (2020) The Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education. Advance HE.

Kazemi, S., Ashraf, H., Motallebzadeh, K. & Zeraatpishe, M. (2020) Development and validation of a null curriculum questionnaire focusing on 21st century skills using the Rasch model. Cogent Education, 7(1), 1736849.

Laurillard, D. (2002) Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. London: Routledge.

Lea, M. & Street, B. (1998) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157-172.

Lea, M. & Street, B. (2006) The “Academic Literacies” Model: Theory and Applications. Theory into Practice, 45, 368-377.

McIntosh, E. & Nutt, D. (eds) (2022) The Impact of the Integrated Practitioner in Higher Education: Studies in Third Space Professionalism. Oxon: Taylor & Francis.

University of Hull (2021) SkillsGuides. Available online: https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/SkillsGuides/ [Accessed 23/04/2021].

University of San Diego (2023) What is a Teaching Philosophy? Examples and Prompts. Available online: https://pce.sandiego.edu/teaching-philosophy-examples [Accessed 26/01/2023]

Webster, H. (2018) How to implement effective 1:1 tutorials, Association of Learning Development in Higher Education Annual Conference. University of Leicester, 26th – 28th March. Leicester: Association of Learning Development in Higher Education.

Header photo generated by DALL-E 2 AI

Cup of tea

Cup of TEA podcast: My doctoral research & transition to academia

I’m delighted to be this week’s guest on Cup of TEA – the Teaching Excellence Academy’s official podcast, exploring learning, teaching and assessment at the University of Hull.

Season 1 – Episode 3: Lee Fallin

This week we’re speaking to Lee Fallin from the School of Education. We talked about a range of topics including his research on learning spaces and also his recent transition from professional services to academia. Lee is really passionate about education and learning development and we think this comes across brilliantly in this really interesting chat. Lee has also kindly provided a list of related links to topics we discuss which can be found below.

Listen to the episode below:

Core links for the podcast episode:

Background links about the posdcast guest:


Have a Cup of TEA

My contribution aside, I highly recommend you check out the Cup of TEA podcast and bookmark it in your favourite app. In week 1, my colleague Kelly Dockerty and student Jess Gleisinger discussed PBL and authentic experiences, with week 2 showcasing Liz Wells and her transition from clinical practice to academia. Both are a great listen!

Journey into being a journal editor

Last year I had the great pleasure of joining the Editorial Board of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (JLDHE). This started as a guest editor for the Special Edition, ALDinHE Conference Proceedings and Reflections. For this special issue I, alongside a team of other guest editors, had the opportunity to weave together the peer-reviewed conference abstract with community and author reflections. Based on my experience as a guest, I was excited to apply and interview for a permanent editor role. As you can safely guess from the title of this post – I was successful ?.

Become an editor

I’ve been an editor for a handful of months. I’m still early on in my journey, but have already found it very rewarding. It’s a fantastic opportunity to support and mentor new authors, alongside helping more established writers get their work into press. The biggest surprise, for me, has to be the dedication and generosity of our peer reviewers. I am often overwhelmed with the interest in review, and often find it challenging to choose who to allocate.

It was stupid of me to be surprised. After all, over the last couple of years, it had become clear to me that peer review was a form of community building. This particularly resonated for the Compendium of Innovative Practice where, as a reviewer, I had myself really felt part of something. This is something that I feel is very special about JLDHE. It is a community – an argument well established in Alicja’s contribution to the conference proceedings.

Teamwork = dream work

Perhaps the single most rewarding part of being on the Editorial Board is the opportunity to work with an amazing set of colleagues. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from them all, and getting to know them more through our work. I have to give Gita Sedghi, who has been my mentor a HUGE shout out. Gita has been the one who has answered my 200-300 questions about the journal, editing and our journal system. (Thanks Gita!).

Our Editorial Board is a great team (yes – I’m biased). We meet monthly to ensure everything is on track for upcoming issues, and there is a lot of work to keep on top of between these meetings. I’ve found the pace and challenge really refreshing. As you can see above – it’s also a rewarding role ?.

The year ahead

Today drew to a close our Editorial Board Winter Residential – and so I write this post sat on a train back to Hull after what has been an intense couple of days working on journal strategy and plans. It’s got me really excited for the year ahead! I also got a chance to use the LEGO I had sat in my suitcase (a staple for any work trip away!).

I’m really looking forward to developing in my role further. I’m also happy for the opportunity to take on more responsibility, and start to focus on different aspects of the journal’s work. Stay tuned! I really look forward to share more about this journey over the coming year.

Get involved!

I hope this post is encouraging for anyone who is thinking about getting more involved in journals – especially JLDHE. I recommend peer-review as a great place to start getting involved (it’s where I started!). It helps you contribute to a journal – and get a feel as to what is within it’s scope. JLDHE is always looking for more reviewers, so watch the LDHEN and SEDA JiscMail networks for future calls to review!