The start of my academic career – one month in!

It’s now over a month since I left my ‘thirdspace‘ role working as a Learning Developer for the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull to start my academic career. Being a Learning Developer, however, was a job I loved in a profession I adored. I had amazing colleagues, and we were so close we were like a family. I am happy to admit it was hard to walk away from all of that, but now that I am a month in, I am convinced it has been a great move.

The lead-in to my academic career in education

There was a time I would have thought I’d end up in a geography department. Yet – I’ve come to realise the School of Education has fit like a glove. I’ve done a Doctorate in Education; worked as a Learning Developer; worked as an Education, Research and Policy Co-ordinator; volunteered as a school governor, am currently the chair of governors at two schools; adopted three children with my husband, and am a trustee of a local community charity. How could I not see education as where I was meant to be?

More than anything, I am so thankful for working on a recent visit day with a local college. Speaking to those prospective students affirmed to me that I was in the right place and had the right experience to share. Everything I have worked towards led me down this career trajectory. Funnily enough, it was one of my new colleagues made this connection for me. I am, indeed, in the right place!

Teaching as an academic

The teaching has been everything I could have hoped. The master’s content is mostly pre-defined, and we’re delivering set content. This is great, as it ensures students get consistent provision, but our workshops provide enough flexibility to ensure we leave a mark and adapt to our students’ needs. The dissertation module has also been restructured, and it has given me some opportunities to get involved. I’ve covered some lectures for a colleague and have helped to develop the sessions around literature reviews. Alongside the level 7 content, I’ve been fortunate to be part of one of the new level 6 modules. As it is new, nothing is written – and it gives real freedom to write and teach content in the direction we like.

I’m yet to miss the materials I’ve previously delivered for the Skills Team – but given the modules I’m focused on, it’s been very similar content to what I’ve done before. I’ve also been able to retain support for the Postgraduate Training Scheme (PGTS), and I am still teaching on Modern Researcher 2. It’s been nice to keep something a little familiar and be able to continue this small piece.

One of the prime differences to this context of teaching from the Skills Team is that I am part of the team setting/marking the assessment. As such, when I give students assessment advice, I can do so in confidence – knowing it will link to the expectations of the course team.

I’m still awaiting my module allocations for trimester 2, and I look forward to seeing what that will bring. All in good time…

Students

Although students are at the heart of everything we do and permeate academic practice, it feels wrong not to draw specific attention to this. I’m really beginning to get to know some of the students, what motivates them and what their research interests are. As I’ve mentioned, we have a very international cohort, which has provided me with excellent opportunities to learn more about different educational systems. I’m so impressed with the passion and drive these students have, and I can’t wait to see what they do.

There is also some level of nerves. What will those mid-module reviews reveal? How will the summative module evaluation questionnaires reveal? At assessment – how will the students do? There are only some small nerves here, but I think this is important. It helps me keep student interest at the forefront of my mind.

Scholarly practice

Ironically, even though I have ‘left’ Learning Development, I’ve had more time for Learning Development scholarship this last few weeks than I have done in years. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve not got time to burn, but I have some scholarship time in my workload. That’s never happened explicitly before. I’ve been able to get a funding bid in with some colleagues, write a short journal article (brief communication) and serve as a guest editor of JLDHE, taking four articles through to completion. There is much more on the cards, and I have a book chapter to write for January, which I am looking forward to! Right now, however, my focus has to be the PCAP – and finishing my research project which focuses on analysing the Compendium of Innovative Practice: Learning Development in a Time of Disruption. More on that another time ?

All this scholarship fits in so well with my new role – and I look forward to seeing how it can impact student learning in my modules and programmes. I’ve also joined JLDHE as a permanent editor, and as I teach on the level 6 and level 7 research and dissertation modules, it’s a great fit with my teaching practice too. I’m learning a lot more about research and peer review as every week goes by – and great learning to pass on to my students.

Key reflections on my academic journey so far

The Wilberforce Building - the home of two academic departments including the School of Education -- and my office!
The Wilberforce Building – My new on-campus home!

As I have reflected upon over several of my previous blogs, this role is giving me the thing I wanted more than anything – the ability to scaffold learning and develop meaningful relationships with students. I’m now in my seventh week of teaching, which means I’ve seen some of my students for over 14 hours of contact time. We’ve got to know each other, connect and work on contemporary educational debates. I can’t wait to see what they focus on in their assessments. Marking and feedback will also be something I enjoy – yet another part of the academic cycle I’ve long been excluded from in my previous role.

Dr Lee Fallin holding a spider plant.
New plant for the office!

So far, I’ve blogged about:

  • One of my early reflections focused on teaching my first workshops. I focused on those initial connections with students, and the joy of my allocated modules.
  • Next up, I was able to think about some of the contractual changes and broader opportunities/responsibilities associated with my first (official) week as a lecturer.
  • For week 2, I focused on re-engaging with assessment & feedback. I was intentional in calling this ‘re-engagement’ as I have done assessment and feedback before – it has just been some time!
  • Finally, my last post drew attention to Personal Supervision and to what extent it was new or not.

As you can tell from the introduction, this was a huge move for me. Leaving a workplace and career after ten years was a risk, but it is something that is paying off very well.

Building blocks

The journey into Personal Supervision (week 3)

Personal supervision is inherently… personal. This makes it hard to reflect on, but I do want to use his week’s blog as an opportunity to think about it in the context of leaving the thirdspace. At first, personal supervision felt like something inherently distinct to academic roles – but the more I’ve reflected upon it, I don’t think it is.

In the context of my previous Learning Development role, there was no personal supervision of students – or similar responsibility. But that is not the case for other thirdspace professionals. I’ve even seen some non-academic (thirdspace) roles dedicated to supervision, although this may not be typical. Student Success roles often fall into this space. Another such example was even Learning Development-based, centred on a single discipline where the Learning Developer supported academic skills development and supervision for all first years. The more I think about it, there may be more exceptions to the rule – especially for some institutions that have wholesale moved supervision away from academic workload and towards professional services.

Diverse approaches to personal supervision

It is also important to acknowledge that the specific duties of personal supervisors might be split in different ways across different institutions. This can change in time too – and Hull even trialled an academic-focused approach to supervision before moving back to a more holistic personal supervision model. Looking at any given responsibility for personal supervisors, there is almost always overlap with the thirdspace. Often, most pastoral issues are usually better supported in the thirdspace. This can even apply to academic-related issues where Learning Developers, Librarians and other professionals may be best placed to support. Yet – while supervision-related duties may fall into the thirdspace at times, I do think there may be something different about that academic-based personal supervision.

I’ve reflected on the last few weeks, and I think there is something special about the academic-based approach to personal supervision. Academics might not be best placed to know everything about the support services available to students, but they are very in tune with the requirements of the course. They should have a feeling for the rigours of the course, based not just on personal experience, but on reflective practice from former course runs. There is also that shared passion for the discipline (hopefully) and an awareness of career options.

Learning Development and personal supervision

Personal supervision stands out as a very different duty from my work in the thirdspace as a Learning Developer. In my old role, I would support different students, disciplines and levels of study. As with my lectures and workshops, as a personal supervisor, I see the same students regularly. This is a sharp contrast to the whole university support focus of my previous role. Don’t get me wrong – I loved that variety at the time. But after a decade of that, I wanted more. I needed a change.

Supervision is a good metaphor for that change for me. That is because, above all, good supervision should be based on connection. Personal supervision works best when supervisors and supervisees know and trust one another. Supervisees need to feel confident they can discuss issues with their supervisor. For this reason, it helps to build that rapport from early on. You just don’t get the chance to engage like that as a Learning Developer, where you are dropping in when needed – then leaving.

My first few weeks as a supervisor

I’ve really enjoyed meeting my students both individually and as a group. It has been great to get to know their motivations and learn more about them. Given the diversity of my supervisees, there is a fair chance I’ll be the one learning from them! One thing that is very similar to being a Learning Developer is the no-shows – but I also recognise life happens, and those circumstances will happen. We will try to re-arrange, I am sure. I had my first group sessions with my supervisees last week, and I hope to meet all of them individually (that want to) in the coming weeks.

It’s been nice to build those connections – and offer some initial support. It’s very much what I expected it to be – which is great. For me, I always think back to the excellent supervision I received as a Geography undergraduate. I just hope I can live up to that example as I move forwards into this role myself.

Earlier this month I reflected on leaving the thirdspace. This post continues my reflections on the transition to my new job!

Love books - a heard in pages

Re-engaging with assessment and feedback – week 2 reflections

One of the defining characteristics of my time as a Learning Developer was that I did not get involved in assessment marking and feedback. There were a handful of exceptions, including some early work for the Business School and our contribution to the Postgraduate Training Scheme. Both of these opportunities were phased out early on in my career, and as such, I’ve not done marking in some time. I know many people who dislike marking – but it was always something I kind of missed. Marking assessments is an essential part of the academic cycle, and the provision of summative feedback helps students to develop moving forwards. I always missed not being part of that. It feels like one of the significant differences between many thirdspace professionals and academics.

While I didn’t do regular assessment marking and feedback, I was certainly up-to-date with the literature and theory in many places. Part of my role as a Learning Developer was helping students to understand their assessments – even if I didn’t set them. I think the vast majority of my appointments were with students focusing on an assessment. It was also a growing area for workshops, with many academics inviting us to run in-curricula sessions on specific assessments. These requests often focused on assessments that step away from essays and reports. I’ve run many sessions on posters, presentations, public communications and more. Yet… I didn’t actually mark the work or provide that summative feedback. That always made me feel like a fraud every time LTHE chat turned to assessment.

Re-engaging with assessment

That brings me back to my reflections on my new job as I finish my second official week as an academic. Assessment and feedback are very much within my remit now. In fact, we’ve just finished the first and second marking for all the postgraduate dissertations from the last year. Given my start date, I only had second marking to do – but it was so nice to get back into assessment. It’s made for quite an inspiring start to the academic year for me, reading about all the fantastic things our outgoing students did in their research over the last year. This has also energised me for the year ahead and the research supervision I will be doing in my own role.

Using assessment and feedback to reflect forwards

I should also note that assessment is exciting from a programme design perspective. The work that students produce gives us opportunities to reflect on how we can continue to improve assessment moving forwards. This could involve different support, new guidance, better clarification or fundamental change to assessment. As one academic year ends, another begins. With postgraduate courses, there is little gap in-between, but we must find the time to reflect on practice. I had the luxury of not being involved in the previous academic year, coming in fresh for 2022-23. Next year I will need to pay close attention to this transition and make sure I pen in time to reflect between the years.

I don’t feel like I can say much more on assessment at this point other than acknowledge that contrast to my previous role. Assessment and feedback are rarely in the remit of thirdspace professionals, and that is something worth unpicking in my reflections over the course of the year.

Reflecting beyond assessment

Before closing, I just wanted to note that other things beyond assessment happened this week as well. I got to deliver my first lecture for the MA programme, covering a lecturer who was away. I also got to see my supervisees for the first time and develop my understanding of personal supervision. Finally, all my weekly workshops took place, and I had the opportunity to get to know my students and their research interests further. More to unpack in a future blog.

Earlier this month I reflected on leaving the thirdspace. This post continues my reflections on the transition to my new job!

My first (official) week as a lecturer

A couple of weeks ago, I reflected on delivering my first workshops in my new role as a lecturer. This was, however, technically before my new contract started. Today I can now reflect on my first official week in post as a lecturer.

My first day was technically the 1st of October (the date stated on the contract). While it wasn’t a working day, I actually logged in on the 1st of the month to check my role had switched from ‘Academic and Library Specialist‘ to ‘Lecturer in Education Studies‘. It had. Phew! ?‍? My main reason for doing this was so I could renew my library books which were currently on recall due to the contract change. It was also reassuring to know I’d still get paid at some point too. ?

The system changes were more important than just Library access – they also gave me a route into the systems I’d need as an academic. I could finally see who my personal supervisees were – and access the data I needed to support them. Of course – this is all a strange aspect of my internal move and does not have so much to do with the roles themselves. It also represented the loss of access to the Library’s internal systems. In particular, I will very much miss using LibGuides and LibCal – part of the LibApps suite. These were excellent tools, although not something I will need day-to-day anymore. I’ve also lost access to (and responsibility for) the Library’s social media. Suffice it to say – my Twitter notifications have gone down significantly!

New role, new contact

This contract change to lecturer also represented my final step out of the thirdspace as I am now officially in an academic post. Having worked in the thirdspace for a decade, I know this is a significant change. In an academic role, I now have new opportunities for career development and progression. There are also clearer policies governing things like intellectual property and consultancy, which were always challenging in the thirdspace as there was an assumption no one in professional services would produce content in this scope. A lot of this doesn’t really matter right here and now, but it represents future opportunities. There is also much more freedom and control in the day-to-day work, more reflective of the duties than anything else.

My teaching workload is focused on educational research, and I couldn’t be happier. I am part of the teams working on the level 7 dissertation (60 credits) and research design and implementation (30 credits) modules. I am also supporting the level 6 extended research project module (60 credits). This essentially gives me the dissertation and research methods support at both levels 6 and 7, bringing foucs to my new role. These modules really fit in with my areas of expertise and I can’t wait to see that the students do with their research opportunity.

For me, the level 6 work is exciting as it is a brand new module, so we all have the opportunity to put our mark on it and shape the content. For the level 7 modules, the content is mostly developed so we can focus on delivery instead. This gives me time to prepare more thoroughly, and as we have a diverse and international cohort, I look forward to learning about educational concepts and theories beyond the UK.

In focus: My first week

Focusing on my first week in more detail, it was brilliant to deliver my second workshop for two of the modules I am part of. It was particularly nice to see the same group of students for a second week, something that is a novelty compared to my old role. As a Learning Developer, I would see a revolving door of students from every discipline and level of study. As a lecturer, I am supporting three modules and a number of personal supervisees. I will see the same students over and over again. We can learn names, get to know each other and build a relationship. This will allow us to build connections and trust, enabling higher levels of discussion and debate in workshops. I also hope it will allow honesty and candidness, which are enablers for topics like positionally and ethics. This will develop in time, but we were really able to hit the ground running this week after the groundwork set in the first session. I’ve already spoken with so many passionate students this last week; the whole experience has been totally energising.

With this role, there is also a lot of responsibility. Lecturers play a significant role in the student experience and are often the primary contact students have with the university. Given my module allocation, it is essential to acknowledge that supporting students with their dissertations is a significant undertaking as these assessments tend to have a high weighting. At level 6, the module is worth half of their final year. For level 7 students, the dissertation is the equivalent of one-third of their grade. These modules are essential for student success, and I will be doing everything in my power to make them a fantastic experience for my students.

Another area of responsibility is also personal supervision. As a personal supervisor, I will act as that first port of call for students in need. I have much to learn in this area, but there is also excellent support from the Faculty, so I feel very comfortable in this undertaking. I also have the benefit of my previous years working in the same institution, so I am very familiar with the services available. I’m looking forward to developing my role as a personal supervisor, and it will be great to get to know these students more in weeks to come.

Earlier this month I reflected on leaving the thirdspace. This post continues my reflections on the transition to my new job!

…and so it begins

Tomorrow marks my first day of teaching in my new role as Lecturer in Education Studies, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting the students I’ll be working with over the next academic year. My classes include the research and dissertation modules at both L6 and L7, which form significant milestones at the end of the UG and PGT programmes. Research philosophy and support is one of my significant areas of expertise, having supported hundreds of students across diverse programmes during my time working as a Learning Developer. I couldn’t be happier with this allocation.

What I am looking forward to the most is the opportunity to work with the same group of students beyond a single session. As a Learning Developer, I would see students in personal appointments, centrally-bookable workshops and in-programme lectures across every discipline. While this diversity was always fun – I would see so many people that it was impossible to learn names, see progression or develop those positive learner-staff relationships that build community. As a lecturer, personal supervisor and research supervisor, there will be opportunities for this. I know it won’t all be perfect – not everyone will engage or turn up – but there will be those opportunities! I think this is, perhaps, one of the most significant changes from working as a Learning Developer in the third space to being an academic member of staff. Time will tell if I’m right!

At the L6 induction, it really struck me that these students will be graduating in a year’s time. Over this academic year, I’ll have the opportunity to watch and support them in engaging in some pretty cool research projects. At the end of the year, I’ll get to see them walk across that stage. I want them to feel proud of themselves and what they have achieved. That, too, is something I wouldn’t see in the third space – or at least not in the same way.


I’ll leave this post as a quick one! This is all technically four days before my start date, and the early teaching is part of the benefit of an internal move. It’s also made the move from one role to the other super blurry. I am, however, VERY glad about this. I can’t imagine a hard start next week without any of the meetings, preparation and logistics (read: office move) of the last few weeks. I’m very glad the Library has facilitated this transition so well.

The Double Diamond: Fixing Higher Education Challenges with Human-centered Design

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been part of a project to use human-centred design processes to approach challenges in Higher Education (HE). This was a big project, looking at institution-wide challenges and what could be developed to address them. We gathered volunteers across the University and asked them to work with us on identifying problems or challenges. We then considered what success looks like outside of HE and what solutions are needed in HE. Finally, we developed prototype solutions to identify how those issues could be addressed. These processes are primarily based on The Design Council’s (2019) Double Diamond (see below). The Double Diamond is a visual representation of the design process and is used to help ensure projects design the right thing and design things right (Ball, 2019).

The Double Diamond

Working through the Double Diamond leads you through two sets of divergent thinking to dream big – before using two sets of convergent thinking to bring back towards the issue at hand. This avoids the tendency for projects to identify one solution and fudge it until it works. Thinking through the Double Diamond puts people first, allowing a human-centred approach to design. The first diamond works towards identifying a design brief, while the second diamond develops and pilots solutions that eventually support an outcome. It can be argued that this is the heart of the design process.

The Double Diamond - two sets of divergent and convergent thinking.

These Double Diamonds of divergent and convergent thinking represent the four stages of design: discovery, define, develop and then deliver. These Double Diamonds sit between the challenge and the solution, leading teams from the problem to the outcome.

Discover

Discover focuses on questioning the problem or challenge. This focuses on dreaming big with the use of divergent thinking. Here, ideas can absolutely run wild – often, the crazier, the better. In our own project, one team developed a substantial monorail system to link the University to local communities. While we’re not going to build a monorail – it is a fantastic synonym of a wider problem. This all leads to the next stage: define.

Define

The second phase takes the findings of the discover phase and uses convergent thinking to synthesise and make sense of them. The end goal is a design brief that summarises and defines the problem. This clearly identifies the challenges and is used in the second diamond to work towards solutions. Using the monorail example led to a cohesive and condensed design brief that identified a challenge with connection and transport.

This phase can also identify further challenges that may link back to further discovery phases.

Develop

The third phase takes the design briefs and develops multiple solutions for them. This is another phase of divergent thinking, allowing that big-dreaming – but within the scope of the brief. At this phase, the different solutions will be prototyped and tested. This doesn’t have to be a real-world trial – but can involve mapping the solution and testing it with colleagues and service users.

Deliver

The final phase of the double diamond works to deliver the outcome. This phase uses convergent thinking to take one of the solutions forwards. This will eventually become the launched solution to whatever problems, issues or challenges have been identified.

This phase can identify the need for alternative solutions that link back to further phases of development. It can also redirect back to the very start if it identifies other challenges that require the full process again. As such, the Double Diamond can be cyclical, re-directing back to earlier phases where required.

From challenge to outcome with The Double Diamond

The below diagram brings together the phases discussed above. While there are multiple representations of The Double Diamond (Ball, 2019), you will notice they are all based on the principles written above. I’ve kept this visual simple, documenting the core steps and links forwards/back.

This diagram shows the Double Diamond. Phase one works toward a design brief, using a divergent discovery process followed by a convergent define process. The second phase uses a divergent develop process followed by a convergent deliver process to develop a solution.

Conclusion: Using The Double Diamond in Higher Education

The Double Diamond processes worked perfectly for our project. This was something that was largely linked to our digital and physical estate – but I am interested to see how this can be used elsewhere in our institution. These processes put people first – and there is significant potential for expanding this. I’m particularly interested in how this could support curriculum design. Our institution uses some excellent curriculum design frameworks, but this often misses that broader discovery phase. Programme teams may look at similar programmes of study, but we rarely go beyond. For me, the crux of the potential is this:

How often do we ask ‘What does an excellent educational experience look like?’ – thinking beyond the confines of Higher Education or our existing programmes of study.

This would allow us to look to schools, colleges, apprenticeships, coaches, training companies, MOOC providers and all other forms of education to learn from them. As a school governor, I often see excellent things happening in Primary and Secondary education that we could learn from. These experiences are had by our students in their early forms of education – and I often think HE isn’t ready to meet the expectations these set. Part of the problem is that programme teams are not responsible for the broader educational facilities and experiences that require development to meet some of these challenges. This would require a different mode of whole-university support for programme design, requiring different management forms, development and financial accounting.


References

Ball, J. (2019) The Double Diamond: A universally accepted depiction of the design process. Design Council. Available online: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/news-opinion/double-diamond-universally-accepted-depiction-design-process [Accessed 20/08/2022]

The Design Council (2019) Framework for Innovation: Design Council’s evolved Double Diamond. Design Council. Available online: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/skills-learning/tools-frameworks/framework-for-innovation-design-councils-evolved-double-diamond/ [Accessed 20/08/2022]

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.

‘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.

The development of university teachers vs. the learning developer

Today I had the pleasure of starting my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP). As a learning developer, my journey is atypical to the peers on my course. This article serves as my first reflection about this. Our first reading was Kugel’s (2006) How professors develop as teachers. Kugel discusses a typical development pathway for lecturers — moving from an understanding of how to teach students towards an understanding of how to support their learning. In this, there are six stages, each characterised by the changing focus as lecturers develop their practice:

The transition from teaching to learning

This model was interesting. Kugel discussed how new teachers tend to focus on themselves as they begin to teach. They move towards solidifying their own discipline knowledge before starting to take into account students. These initial changes focus on teaching. The understanding of students develops, acknowledging them as receptive, then active learners. These later stages begin to focus on learning above teaching. Finally there is an understanding of learners as independent — with the core role of the teaching being to support students to teach themselves.

While I can see much in this model, it’s an interesting reflection for me as a learning developer.

The primary role of a learning developer is to help learners achieve that end goal — independence. While there are many nuances to this, ultimately learning developers are aim to work with students to help them develop their own autonomy and self-sufficiency. So… do learning developers really jump to the final stage of Kugel’s model?

Perhaps. At least at first. As a new practitioner starting in the learning development field 9 years ago, I feel I started from day 1 as a practitioner supporting this goal. Perhaps somewhat light in the tools I had at my disposal – but a focus on independent learning all the same. What I didn’t realise was that learning development itself had an underlying literature I needed to understand. As such, I perhaps worked backwards through some of Kugel’s model. I had to back-step and develop myself and my disciplinary knowledge to ultimately make me better at supporting that learning.

That backwards learning was important. It made me appreciate the diverse ways in which most academic tasks can be achieved. Without this understanding, there can be a focus on promoting your practices — or at least a narrow range. Inclusive higher education practices should never aim to reproduce yourself. More importantly, it required me to understand what teaching means, and how in reality, it wasn’t really that important in most learning development encounters. Indeed, it wasn’t even something I did that much. That brings me to my last reflection on this paper.

This final reflection relates to ‘teaching’ itself. The paper focused on teaching alone. However, as educations, we have more tools than teaching alone. As learning developers we are coaches. We are mentors. We are cheerleaders – and yes! Sometimes teachers. Yet, teaching isn’t everything. It is just part of the story.