Basking in the Long Room: The Old Library at Trinity College Dublin

As someone who studies and researches library space, I could not pass the opportunity to visit Trinity College Dublin. Ireland’s oldest university is home to the famous Old Library ‘Long Room’, a space that is the epitome of a traditional library. What better space could I find to absorb and reflect upon the sheer wonder of the library. Certainly a great fit considering my doctoral thesis:

I’m not quite sure there are words to fully capture the majesty of the Long Room. Those infamous all-wooden bookshelves that frame beautiful windows at a 90 degree angle. Shelves that run from floor to (mezzanine) ceiling, crammed fully with books. In the same way that I discussed the Library as synonymous with books, knowledge and learning in my thesis, the Long Room is perhaps the ultimate symbol of it. It is the epitome of knowledge and learning. In this space, there is little sign of the comforts and technologies we associate with a modern library space. It is a space where the book is king.

“And it’s Ireland’s front room because every visiting head of state comes here.”

Helen Shenton, Trinity’s Library Director

My visit in pictures

The Long Room Restoration

Of course, for anyone who has recently visited the Long Room, you will note that most of the books have been decanted (see above). I’d missed this news – and the absence of the books did remove some of the impact of this room. But it is all with good reason. The books within this room are of immense value – some of them priceless. The 2019 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral served as a warning for the need to preserve such assets as the Long Room. As framed in the New York Times, the Long Room, as an Irish national treasure, was overdue restoration. All is not lost for tourists like me – they did leave a few bays of books which still give an excellent impression of what the room looked like.

So what does restoration mean? To safeguard the books for future generations, all books have been removed from the Long Room, cleaned, digitised and safely stowed in a climate-controlled facility off campus. As the space also has no modern fire suppression and is largely made of wood, it was at high risk of fire. While this is unthinkable, Notre Dame demonstrated a stark reality. The risks also went beyond fire, with the room not possessing the appropriate environmental controls to preserve the delicate books. The lack of environmental controls also brings risks from damp, pollution and mould.

The Long Room experience

A photo of Lee Fallin in the Long Room. He smiles as rows of books are behind him and the bust of Milton.

Visiting the Long Room feels a bit like being in a movie set. Serving as the backdrop and inspiration for movies and books alike, it was surreal being there in person. I’d forgotten about the busts that adorned the ends of each bookshelf row. It sounds silly, but is was still really odd being in such a famous space – and to see the reality of it. It isn’t just something from movies and films – it is a real space you can visit and immerse yourself in.

The big surprise for me (again – I hadn’t well researched my visit!) was to see our planet just hanging at the end of the room. I’d seen similar displays in my home city of Hull, hanging in Hull Minister. But I’d expected that when I went into the space. In the Long Room, it was sublime. The juxtaposition of dark wooden shelves to bring planet was striking. A beautiful contrast, and what better way to present such a display. Take it in for yourself:

The beautiful wooden roof and shelves of the Long Room are the host cite for an inflatable replica of the earth.
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.

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

Using Artificial Intelligence to summerise emails: A use case for Open AI’s text-davinci-003

There have been some interesting discussions around the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – and the fear of how it will impact assessment in HE. I will reflect on this myself in time, but for now, I want to muse on a possible use case. I’ve been following an email thread on AI in higher education via a publically accessible JiscMail. One participant had acknowledged how sprawling the debate had become – and asked if ChatGPT could lend a hand. I decided to give this a go using OpenAI‘s text-davinci-003 model (and it should be noted that this post’s feature image was drawn by OpenAI’s DALL·E 2)!

First, I downloaded the content text from 30 publically accessible emails on this topic of ChatGPT. Secondly, I removed all personally identifiable information (i.e. names, emails, links, institutions) from the text. This was an ethical issue as while the email text is in the public domain via jiscmail.ac.uk, the tool I used is allowed to retain text to train the algorithm further. Thirdly, I split the text into two separate queries to fit within the 4,000 token limit on text-davinci-003 model. Finally, I took the two text-davinci-003 outputs and asked text-davinci-003 to summarise the discussion from each text sample and re-write it for a knowledgeable audience.

Artificial Intelligence summary of the discussion:

This email thread is discussing a variety of topics related to ChatGPT, a new technology, in higher education assessment. Ideas have been suggested to mitigate any short-term disruption to assessment this semester, such as informing teachers of the technology, revising current assessment regulations, teaching students about academic misconduct, incorporating the model into assessment design, encouraging the greater use of oral-based assessment, group project work, and classroom-based assessment, using browser lockdown capabilities, testing the model against a variety of tasks, and promoting assessment (re)design that requires the creation of multi-media artefacts. There has also been discussion about curating resources on the topic, as well as different types of assessment that could be used, such as handwritten assignments and orals, and the ethics of the technology, with suggestions to use Turnitin to cross-reference essay submissions and to teach students to question the production and consumption of their cultural landscape. Additionally, it has been suggested to have an event which focuses on the implications of GPT for educational development and developers, as well as a SIG on AI and Academic Development. It was also noted that OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT) is likely to become an organisation within the Microsoft ‘empire’, and that there is software that can detect ChatGPT-generated text.

text-davinci-003 summary of academic development discussion

Evaluating text-davinci-003’s output

… and do you know what. It isn’t a bad summary. It has missed some of the nuance and detail – and obviously the weight of some arguments over others. Some of the more powerful arguments (that were buried in the thread) were lost. For me, the summary was much poorer for excluding some of the deeper ethical concerns, for example, OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour .

Yet, for someone who is ‘time-poor’, such a summary presents an exciting way to engage with significant chunks of information in little time. This summary took about five minutes – including both my time editing the text and that of text-davinci-003. This cost around 20 USD cents ($0.20). The original text was computed to take 18 minutes to read – the refined output was 60 seconds. Paying 20 cents to save 17 minutes of reading… not a bad cost for some.

Caution is, however, needed. When I asked text-davinci-003 to summarise the above for a 3rd grader – it was quite off the mark!

ChatGPT is a new technology that can help teachers assess students. It can help teachers check if students are cheating and can help them create different types of assessments. It can also help teachers create projects and activities that involve creating multi-media artefacts. There are also some ethical considerations to think about when using this technology.

text-davinci-003 3rd grader summary of academic development discussion

At this point, it has over-simplified the discussion to the point it is incorrect. At no point was ChatGPT pitched as something to help assess students or help create multi-media artefacts.

It was quite right on the ethical mark, though. I took great care to only use public-domain information with no personal information in this experiment. But even then – I imagine some people would feel uncomfortable about this.

Artificial Intelligence summaries as an automated proccess

This was a manual process – but I wonder how far off an automated future could be. From anyone using Microsoft 365/Outlook for emails, you may have received Microsoft Viva briefings. Microsoft Viva emails to bring together data from across your Microsoft 365 account (including your email) to bring connection and insights. This all uses a form of Artificial Intelligence to provide things like helpful reminders on outstanding actions, advice on how to manage your time in the context of your diary and information it feels might be helpful. Given Microsoft are rumoured to want OpenAI’s technology further integrated into Windows and Microsoft 365 – perhaps email summaries (on this scale) would be a natural extension of Microsoft Viva.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments:

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.

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]

Using LEGO as a teaching aid for academic writing at university

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

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

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

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

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

Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing

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

LEGO bricks spread all over a table in no order

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

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

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

A pile of yellow LEGO bricks of subtlety different shades

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

A pile of brown bricks come together into a block

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

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

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

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

An assembled block of brown bricks

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

Photo of lego blocks - demonstrates the

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

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

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

LEGO monarch with crown

Taking this into practice

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

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


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

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.