A pedagogy of care (hu)manifesto

UCL ‘Freedom to Learn’ movement (Teams Channel)

Martin Compton & Rebecca Lindner

Teachers who care, who serve their students, are usually at odds with the environments wherein we teach (hooks, 2013)

It is very easy in a modern university to get absorbed with systems, processes, data and results that often de-centre the individuals that work and study within these systems. We hear increasingly of the troubling consequences of student wellbeing issues and of staff burnout, and the pandemic has exacerbated many of the tensions and issues consequent of highly-pressurised ways of working and being that are common in higher education. A pedagogy of care deliberately pushes against these pressurised phenomena. It centres individuals by starting with respect, trust, inclusion and relationship-building as precursors to dialogue and affective development as well as academic development.

even for the majority who do “care” in the virtue sense—that is, they profess to care and work hard at their teaching—there are many who do not adopt the relational sense of caring. (Noddings, 2005)

As a prompt for discussion and as a starting point to help us all (as educators working in HE) interrogate our own current practices, we offer the following ‘pedagogy of care (hu)manifesto’ which draws on core concepts, principles and ideas found in the works cited below. We invite colleagues to consider their own (and their peers’) practices in light of each of these statements, to identify tensions, challenges, objections and potential pitfalls as well as opportunities, examples and affordances suggested by each of the commitments.

By embracing a pedagogy of care, we endeavour to:

1.       Humanise things! Understand the value of connecting at a human level and modelling caring


2.       Challenge conventions of hierarchy and authority


3.       Challenge the narratives and norms of rigour and educational ‘suffering’


4.       Normalise learning through mistakes


5.       Recognise that positive relationships demand trust: Being ‘nice’ does not mean being indirect or dishonest


6.       Appreciate that dialogue is essential to showing care (and listening is at least half of this!)


7.       Accept that humility and normalising vulnerability show strength not weakness


8.       Show and tell students that you care- DO smile before winter break!


9.       Employ flexibility, openness and welcome with office hours


10.    Above all: acknowledge where each student is at and don’t enforce behaviours or punish recalcitrance


In the case of wellbeing interventions in higher education, lesson- learning, sharing good practice and building networks around ideas and interventions are all important, but it is also critical to understand factors that shape HE organisations’ abilities to successfully take this knowledge forward and address wellbeing problems. (Watson & Turnpenny, 2022)


Blake, S., Capper, G. & Jackson, A. Building Belonging in HE https://wonkhe.com/wp-content/wonkhe-uploads/2022/10/Building-Belonging-October-2022.pdf

Denial, C. (2019) A Pedagogy of Kindness. https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness/

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress. Oxon: Routledge

hooks, b. (2013) Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. Routledge.

Hughes, G, Upsher, R, Nobili, A, Kirkman, A, Wilson, C, Bowers- Brown, T, Foster, J, Bradley, S and Byrom, N (2022) Education for Mental Health. Advance HE.

Larsen, A. (2015) ‘Who cares?’ Developing a pedagogy of care in higher education (Phd Thesis). Utah State University Library

Noddings, N. (2005) Caring in education’ The encyclopedia of informal Education.

Pilato, N. (2018) Pedagogy of care: Embodied relationships of teaching and mentorship. IJEA Vol. 19: 1.9

Watson, D.  & Turnpenny, J. (2022) Interventions, practices and institutional arrangements for supporting PGR mental health and wellbeing: reviewing effectiveness and addressing barriers. Studies in HE.

Sound advice


Tim Neumann, a man in headphones and black mask talks into and points at a microphone on a boom

Tim Neumann getting angry with the mic

Tim Neumann has a reputation for taking (amongst many things) ‘sound’ very seriously. On Zoom he has the most impressive mic, for example. I was keen to get him in to the studio we set up to tap him up about all the settings on the Rodecaster Pro we bought. We decided to switch on the system while we chatted even though I was a bit throaty and the expert set about schooling this amateur in a bunch of things about sound related to settings that are adjustable on the podcasting system we have. In here you can hear about: Compression, pumping, phantom power, de-esser, dynamic volume regulation, high pass filter, noise gate, aural exciter, big bottom and flutter echo. 

Screen on the Rodecaster Pro showing level meter and a 'phantom power' switch set to 'off'

Phantom Power Switch

A touch screen showing various audio processing ooptions: compressor, de-esser, high pass filter, noise gate, aural exciter, big bottom and processing

Various sound options all switched on- wisely it seems.

The Rodecaster system is a black base unit approximately 40cm wide with 8 audio sliders, 8 light up effect buttons on the right and a touch screen menu. Wirese protrude from the rear.

The Rodecaster Pro

The corner of a room as seen from behind a mic boom- the corner ios the join of a wall and glass panels

The offensive glass wall

Learning theory and dietetics

Learning theory and dietetics

This resource has been created as pre-reading for a session I have been invited to lead with students on the MSc Dietetics at UCL. It is my attempt at answering the question: ‘Is there any point in dieticians knowing about learning theory? (professionally I mean, given that it is, of course, inherently interesting!)

(Listen 9mins 12 seconds or read below)

Download pdf version


People with research or professional interests in educational psychology or teaching understandably and logically have an interest in learning theory. Whether theory provides a template for design of approaches to teaching, learning and assessment or offers an analytical lens to better understand what is happening at an individual or collective level, it makes sense that we challenge our assumptions, experiences and reflections through such theoretical lenses. But what of those whose relationship with teaching or with everyday human tendencies and behaviours is only a tangential part of their role? In any role where one person gives information to others, helps them to understand things or is responsible for changing (or helping to change) behaviours then understanding a little of how people learn will be beneficial. From my (lay) perspective, I imagine that common challenges in dietetics will be interpreting and conveying complex scientific information about nutrition and health and helping people to understand impacts and causation in relation to excess or absence in diet. Consideration of these challenges and issues that arise can be informed through theoretical lenses.

The learning theory landscape

A wordcloud of all the key words for this topic: theory, dietetics, constructivism, social, nutrition, behaviourism, health, diet, psychology are the largestOne of the problems with this is that a quick search for ‘theories of learning’ will present a dazzling, complex, sometimes-contradictory array of theories and ideas. It immediately raises several questions:

  1. Where do you start?
  2. How deep need you go?
  3. How can exposure to learning theory be applied in a meaningful way in context?

The answer to the first question may be ‘right here!’ if you have not studied learning theory before. The second question probably has the same answer as to the question: ‘How long is a piece of string?’ and will inevitably be determined by academic, research and professional roles and interests. The third question is one that we will try to get to grips with here and in the forthcoming session.

Like any other academic field, learning theory has its groupings and areas. The landscape isn’t always represented the same way: you will sometimes see theorists in one category, then another, which can be confusing. This may be due to classification differences, or because the theorist has developed their position over time. To complicate things further, the term ‘theory’ is used to cover a variety of models, approaches and techniques, and often defined by different people in different ways. That said, complication need not be a problem: rather than seeking firmly defined boundaries, think more in terms of spectra and Venn diagrams, where things overlap and interconnect. A main use of theory is to shed light on our experience and help us reflect on – and even change – our practice.


The following theories are both broad and narrow and some can be seen as subsets or informed by wider/ earlier theories. Whether broad or narrow, generalised or specific they have been selected because I think they may be of use to those in the field of dietetics. However, you have more expertise than I do here so it is important your critical eye is focussed and alert. Remember, it is unlikely that you will read a theory, decide ‘ah ha! That’s me from now on’. Rather, you may read, think, reflect, apply and draw on a range of complementary (or contradictory) ideas and approaches as you develop techniques in your future roles as well as using theoretical lenses to better understand what has worked and what has not.

Broad theoretical ‘schools’

Behaviourist theories of learning see the learner as passive; they can be trained using reward and punishment to ‘condition’ them to behave in particular ways (famous theorists in this domain include Pavlov and Skinner whose reach extends into popular understandings unlike most other domains of theory). Learning is seen as a change in behaviour. In health education the role of the expert might be to provide incentives or find ways to disincentivise certain behaviours. Consider the cost of tobacco products and the gruesome images on the packaging. What is the thinking behind this? Can the cost and images be credited with the continuing fall in numbers of smokers?

Cognitivist theories of learning see the learner as actively processing information rather than just being ‘conditioned’ by various stimuli. Cognitivists are concerned with how learners process and remember information, and often test recall as a measure of learning. In health education the expert’s role is to convey information in ways that optimises recall and completeness. Consider the 5 portions of fruit/ veg a day campaign: Whilst there were certainly ‘rewards’ built into the design of the programmes (i.e. health benefits of eating 5 a day) there was also an emphasis on providing and reinforcing information about nutrition and vitamins through attractive materials, booklets, leaflets, connections of school curricula and so on.

Constructivist theories of learning see the learner as an active participant in their own learning. The process of learning is not merely putting knowledge into an empty container. The ‘teacher’ presents knowledge, scenarios, resources, options and problems (or they gain it in another way) and in learning it students ‘construct’ the knowledge for themselves, linking it to what they already know. A variant of this is ‘social constructivism’, which holds that students’ construction of their knowledge is done with others. How might a dietician apply a constructivist approach when working with a client with type 2 diabetes who, by their own admission and despite worsening symptoms, persists in keeping a diet that is sugar, starch and salt rich?


a display cabinet with items and the amount of sugar in them such as a coke can (27g), capri sun carton (24g) and mars bar (54g)

Stop and think

Which broad theoretical approach can you see here?

At my local dentist surgery there is a display case with different sugary snacks, foods and drinks set out very neatly adjacent to piles of sugar equivalent to the actual amount in those foodstuffs. Each has a typed label (like in a museum) with the amount of sugar in grams. There are also a couple of low sugar items. There are no explicit warnings of the dangers of sugar to teeth.


Specific theories: How relevant / useful are these?

Situated Learning theory holds that relevance/ needs of learning are always embedded within a context and culture, so it’s best to teach particular materials within a relevant context – e.g. teaching clinical skills in a clinical setting. Within that context, students learn by becoming involved in a ‘community of practice’ – a group of practitioners – and through ‘Legitimate Peripheral Participation’ move from the periphery of this community towards its centre (i.e. the more expert and involved in practice they become, the closer they move toward the centre). (key names: Vygotsky, Lave)

Social Learning Theory views observation as key to learning; it holds that we learn through observing others, not just what they do but also the consequences of that. People learn from watching older or more expert people. An educator has a role in getting their attention, helping them remember and motivating them to demonstrate their learning. Behaviour is also affected by what they see being rewarded or punished. (key name: Bandura)

Mindset (motivational) Theory argues that if people believe that their ability to achieve something is fixed they have little chance of changing it and they therefore have a fixed mindset. To develop (i.e. learn), a growth mindset is needed and this is related to intrinsic self-belief. The educator’s role is to show belief, exemplify positive behaviours (e.g. hard work and effort should be valued not only results) and showing how to embrace ‘failure’ (key name: Dweck)

Critical Pedagogy is more of a movement than a theory: it holds that teaching cannot be separated from wider social and political concerns, and that educators should empower their ‘students’ to be active, critical citizens. Critical pedagogy is concerned with, whatever the subject, asking students to question hierarchies and power relations and to achieve a higher political consciousness. Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (one of the first books of critical pedagogy) coined the ‘banking model’ in his critique of how some teaching aims to ‘fill’ students up with knowledge as though they are blank slates, merely receiving and storing knowledge. In addition, bell hooks’ work on intersectionality (complex layers of discrimination and privilege according to factors such as race, class, gender, sexuality and disability) might also lend a powerful lens to understand and challenge the nature and role of diet amongst groups as well as in individuals.

Session slides


Further reading

You may like to see things represented on a timeline with short, pithy summaries of key ideas. If so, try this site: https://www.mybrainisopen.net/learning-theories-timeline/

Donald Clark has written a huge amount about learning theory on his blog and this can be seen here if you prefer a dip in and search approach: https://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/

A really accessible intro (as well as a much wider resource) is the encyclopaedia of informal learning: https://infed.org/learning-theory-models-product-and-process/

This resource was produced by Martin Compton. The Theoretical schools material was adapted from resources created by Emma Kennedy, Ros Beaumont & Martin Compton (UoG, 2018)

Teaching metaphors

a swiss army knife with a brown case and each blade safely tucked in the closed positionI used a number of visual hooks today in a session…it’s actually running right now (they’re in a breakout discussion)… and I asked what this swiss army knife might represent in the context of the short course they are on. One of my amazing colleagues (Most are PhD students/ PGTAs), Elizabeth, said:

The swiss-army knife: establishing an arsenal of multiple tools for teaching and for reflection, to allow for flexibility and adaptability as an educator–in the short term (in class, adapting to students), and in the long term (throughout a course, throughout a career)

I was very impressed as it articulated an idea that was, at best, only half-formed in my own mind so I thought I’d share it here!


Digital accessibility and you: Where are you now and where could you be?

This post accompanies a workshop led by Ben Watson (Head of Digital Accessibility at UCL (University College London) and Martin Compton (UCL Arena). In it are resources we will be using in the session.  But please do read and try the linked activities for yourself even if you are not attending! The session is designed to raise awareness of what digital accessibility means and what a UCL approach to digital accessibility requires us to know and to do. The workshop is also an opportunity for us to pilot aspects of an (in-development) Accessibility Engagement Tool. The tool is being designed to help colleagues discuss their accessibility engagement and get clear direction on what they can do to further improve the accessibility of their teaching. The goal is to enable colleagues to set some clear digital accessibility goals irrespective of their starting point.

Accessibility in its broadest sense is about making activities, environments, and information as useable and meaningful as possible in ways that do not exclude people. It is about empowerment, about minimising frustration and about effective anticipatory design. Digital accessibility therefore ‘provides ramps and lifts into information.’ It includes ensuring that all information we create at UCL can be seamlessly consumed by everyone that wishes to access it. As UCL’s digital accessibility policy is rolled out, we hope that we can help demystify aspects of digital accessibility

The accessibility engagement model and accompanying self-assessment tool are being designed to enable colleagues to plot their own level according to a series of questions about aspects of digital accessibility. The idea will be that through series of questions related to:

  1. Values and beliefs
  2. Knowledge and skills
  3. Actions and behaviours

…the tool will plot an overall position as well as noting areas of developmental or resourcing need. As we have shaped this model one area that has led to much discussion, consultation and head scratching are the labels we are appending to levels. As a starting point we propose six levels of ‘maturity status’ and invite colleagues to decide which level they are currently at:

Accessibility Engagement Model

Level Accessibility Maturity Status Characteristics and indicative practices
0 Unwilling Context means that this is not prioritised in current working environment given competing commitments and pressures.

Time is a key point of resistance.

1 Unable Don’t know where to start and/or in need of direction, support, and prioritisation.
2 Reluctant compliant Awareness of accessibility principles and drivers; only adopting bare minimum when encouraged.
3 Willing compliant Awareness of accessibility design principles; willingly adopting good basic level of accessibility.
4 Ally Connected to wider pedagogical values; allies are vocal on behalf of students. Role model or provide case studies/ templates for others in their departments.
5 Champion and Co-creator Activists/ innovators who work with students to understand and design more accessible approaches and resources. Potential contributors to institutional policy and strategy.

Digital accessibility behaviours

Whilst the questions and tool are still under construction, for now we invite colleagues to use the Mentimeter linked below to respond briefly to some ‘actions / behaviours’ statements.

Please access the Mentimeter so that you can (anonymously) assess your behaviours against a number of statements. For each statement you are able to choose from 0-5 as follows

0. Not on my radar

1. Would if I knew how

2. Rarely or if required

3. Sometimes

4. Always

5. Yes! And support others

The cumulative results (i.e. all those who respond) can be seen in the presentation slides which display results.

The statements in the slides can also be seen below.

  1. I use descriptive hyperlinks rather than ‘click here’ or unconcealed links
  2. I ensure that visual materials are conveyed effectively to those who cannot see them using alternative text descriptions and audio descriptions
  3. I ensure my documents are navigable with a structured set of headings
  4. I ensure tables are easy to read and have clear heading rows
  5. I enable automatic speech recognition captions in all multimedia
  6. I enable automatic speech recognition captions in all multimedia and make corrections to them
  7. I offer a range of formats for my materials e.g., PDF, html and docx
  8. I signpost students to assistive technologies so that they can have more support accessing materials
  9. I share electronic content with students (such as slides) ahead of teaching sessions
  10. I accessibility check my documents before finalising them
  11. I explain acronyms when I use them
  12. I check my work for colour contrast issues

Further resources

Pebble in the pond: scaled active learning in Engineering

My colleague, Dr Jenny Griffiths, talked excitedly on Twitter and then in the office the other day about the annual ‘Pebble in the Pond’ activity which forms an exciting and central part to the induction of new students to the IEP at UCL. It sounds amazing so I asked Jenny to share some thoughts on it in this guest post.


“Wood! Wood! Do we have enough wood? Do we have any wood? Where can we get wood for next week NOW?” (Dr. Fiona Truscott, September 2022) 

Having moved out of the UCL Engineering offices when I moved to UCL Arena, followed by pandemic remoteness for a while means that memories of the immense back-room organisation for teaching had drifted to the back of my mind. These joyfully returned when I spent some time at the SEFI conference with UCL Engineering staff.  

The beginning of the academic year means one thing for Integrated Engineering Programme (IEP) first year students: Pebble In The Pond. This ambitious teaching activity introduces over 800 students to collaboration, design thinking, communication and making mistakes through a bit of competition, large amounts of fun and huge amounts of cardboard, tape, elastic bands, paper and wood. The students work in small parallel teams on individual parts of a larger ‘machine’ that must transport a pebble from one side of a room to another in the style of Joseph’s machines and Crazy Contraptions (or the Great Egg Race for connoisseurs of 80s TV). 

The activity runs several times in the very first week of term to accommodate all of the students – there’s no hall big enough for them all at once! Nevertheless, the buzz when you walk into the room is incredible. There’s noise, mess, and most of all, new students learning to work with each other and have fun in this low stakes environment.  ripples in shallow water atop a bed of pebbles

So why run the activity? It’s fun and a great icebreaker, but more fundamentally, it’s also good education and sets the tone for much of the work the students will do during their degree. The IEP has a spine of project-based learning built in from the very beginning and Pebble is the first step in the scaffolding of students from task-based projects through to week-long discipline-based projects (scenarios) and onto true global-problem projects. The active learning allows students to practice and put their technical knowledge into instant use. In just a few hours students apply design thinking, discover the importance of an iterative design, build, test, modify cycle, find that systems integration is key to a big project, and that all of this is facilitated by good communication with others. They then get to reflect on this over the next few weeks, using this experience to shape their learning and thinking on the core transferable and employability skills that are essential for graduates and written into the accreditation requirements of Engineering degree programmes 

Part of my role in academic development in UCL Arena is looking out for inspiration from our faculties to share with the wider community, and ‘Pebble’ is a great example of that. It shows that we can create engaging learning activities that support development of employability skills while giving students the opportunity to apply a few discipline-specific skills (such systems integration and design thinking for engineers) along the way. It’s also designed as a springboard for student reflection on these skills as they move further into their degree programme. 

Engaging active learning can be done at scale, and I’m looking forward to next year’s already. 


Big tech headlights

Listen (7 mins) or read (5 mins)

Whether it’s non-existent problems, unscalable solutions or a lack of imagination, we need to be careful about what educational technology appears to promise.

I have written before about how easy it is to get dazzled by shiny tech things and, most dangerously, thinking that those shiny things will herald an educational sea change. More often than not they don’t. Or if they do, it’s nowhere near the pace often predicted.  It is remarkable to look back at the promises interactive whiteboards (IWBs) held for example. I think I still have a broken Promethean whiteboard pen in a drawer somewhere. I was sceptical from the off that one of the biggest selling points seemed to be something like: “You can get students up to move things around”. I like tech but as someone teaching 25+ hours per week (how the heck did I do that?) I could immediately see a lot of unnecessary faff. Most in my experience in schools and colleges suggest they are, at best, glorified projectors rarely fulfilling promise. Research I have seen on impact tends to be muted at best and studies in HE like this one (Benoit, 2022) suggest potential detrimental impacts. IWBs for me are emblematic of much of what I feel is often wrong with the way ed tech is purchased and used. Big companies selling big ideas to people in educational institutions with purchasing power and problems to solve but, crucially, at least one step removed from the teaching coal face. Nevertheless, because of my role at the time (‘ILT programme coordinator’, thank you very much) I did my damnedest to get colleagues using IWBs interactively and at all (I was going to say ‘effectively’) other than as a screen until I realised that it was a pointless endeavour. For most colleagues the IWB was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. close up of oldsmobile headlights in monochrome

A problem that is better articulated is about the extent of engagement of students coupled with tendencies towards uni-directional teaching and passivity in large classes.  One solution is ‘Clickers’.  These have been kicking around since the 1960s in fact and foreshadowed modern student / audience response systems like Mentimeter, still sometimes referred to as clickers (probably by older generation types like me). Research was able to show improvements in engagement, enjoyment, academic improvement and useful intelligence for lecturing staff (see Kay and LeSage, 2009; Keough, 2012; Hedgcock and Rouwenhort, 2014) but the big problem was scalability. Enthusiasts could secure the necessary hardware, trial use with small groups of students and report positively on impact. I remember the gorgeous aluminium cases our media team held containing maybe 30 devices each. I also recall the form filling, the traipse to the other campus, the device registering and the laborious question authoring processes. My enthusiasm quickly waned and the shiny cases gathered dust on media room shelves. I expect there are plenty still doing so and many more with gadgets and gizmos that looked so cool and full of potential but quickly became redundant. BYOD (Bring your own device) and cloud-based alternatives changed all that of course. The key is not whether enthusiasts can get the right kit but whether very busy teachers can get it and the results versus effort balance sheet firmly favours the former. There are of course issues (socio-economic, data, confidentiality, and security to name a few!) with cloud-base BYOD solutions but the tech is never going to be of the overnight obsolete variety. This is why I am very nervous about big ticket kit purchases such as VR headsets or smart glasses and very sceptical about the claims made about the extent to which education in the near future will be virtual. Second Life’s second life might be a multi-million pound white elephant.

Finally, one of the big buzzes in the kinds of bubbles I live in on Twitter is about the ‘threat’ of AI. On the one hand you have the ‘kid in the sweetshop’ excitement of developers marvelling at AI text authoring and video making and on the other doom-mongering teachers frothing about what these (massively inflated, currently) affordances offer our cheating, conniving, untrustworthy youth. The argument goes that problems of plagiarism, collusion and supervillain levels of academic dishonesty will be exacerbated massively. The ed tech solution: More surveillance! More checking! Plagiarism detection! Remote proctoring! I just think we need to say ‘whoa!’ before committing ourselves to anything and see whether we might imagine things a little differently. Firstly, do existing systems (putting aside major ethical concerns) for, say, plagiarism detection, actually do what we imagine them to do? They can pick up poor academic practice but can they detect ‘intelligent’ reworking?   The problem is: How will we know what someone has written themselves otherwise? But where is our global perspective on this? Where is our 21st century eye? Where is acknowledgement of existing tools used routinely by many? There are many ways to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ and different educational traditions value different ways to represent this. Remixes, mashups and sampling are a fundamental part of popular culture and the 20s zeitgeist. Could we not better embrace that reality and way of being? Spellcheckers and grammar checkers do a lot of the work that would have meant lower marks in the past but we use them now unthinkingly. Is it such a leap to imagine positive and open employment of new tools such as AI?  Solutions to collusion in online exams offer more options it seems: 1. Scrap online exams and get them all back in huge halls or 2. [insert Mr Burns’ gif] employ remote proctoring. The issues centre on students’ abilities to 1. Look things up to make sure they have the correct answer and 2. Work together to ensure they have a correct answer. I find it really hard not see that as a good thing and an essential skill. I want people to have the right answer. If it is essential to find what any individual student knows, our starting point needs to be re-thinking the way we assess NOT looking for ed tech solutions so that we can carry on regardless. While we’re thinking about that we may also want to re-appraise the role new tech does and will likely play in the ways that we access and share information and do what we can to weave it in positively rather than go all King Canute.

Benoit, A. (2022) Investigating the Impact of Interactive Whiteboards in Higher Education. A Case Study. Journal of Learning Spaces

Hedgcock, W. and Rouwenhorst, R. (2014) ‘Clicking their way to success: using student response systems as a tool for feedback.’ Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education,

Kay, R. and LeSage, A. (2009) ‘Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature.’ Computers & Education

Keough, S. (2012) ‘Clickers in the Classroom: A Review and a Replication.’ Journal of Management Education


Things we can do

As it’s summer, my writing efforts are directed elsewhere currently but still I wanted to share this resource compiled by Dave Hitchcock. It’s a ‘short practical guide for university lecturers’ in terms of ways to think, act and be to acknowledge and minimise impacts of student poverty. The practical advice is very useful such as:

“Office Hours. Make a habit of flexible hours insofar as your schedule permits and ensure you provide students with online slots in addition to in-person slots to allow commuting students to save costs by talking to you remotely.”

See this dynamic document here:


Only tangentially related but, still, suggesting ways we can change our thinking and practices in terms of the centrality of grades is the recording of the slot I was invited to present at the recent ‘Digitally Enhanced Education’ series:

The arguments in the above might feel stronger if viewed via the lens of student perspectives on grading as explored in this QAA podcast- it’s a complex and nuanced picture. At the very least we need to be alert to tendencies to assume what is wanted, to generalise our assumptions/ thinking and to close our minds to possible alternatives to long standing and conventional practices.

APT ’22 Talking hybrid (aka HyFlex/ mixed mode etc etc…)

Friday 1st July 2022 is the in person part of the APT (Academic Practice and Technology) conference. In its 12th year, this conference, co-hosted by UCL, LSE and Imperial, re-emerges from online only with some interesting modalities of its own. The conference includes a mix of synchronous online, asynchronous content pre-recorded by colleagues from across the sector and synchronous in-person roundtables, workshops and hackathons. The opening event from Professor Cate Denial, ‘Pedagogy of kindness in action’ generated a huge amount of interest and ongoing discussion. The recording and information on all three keynoters is available on the APT site.

I will be chairing a discussion session that brings together three related papers and a panel of colleagues from City, UoL, Edinburgh Napier and Kingston, the outline of which can be seen below:

[click slide and use arrow keys on your keyboard to advance slides or hover over bottom left of slides to find navigation arrows]

I will also be co-hosting a roundtable on hybrid/ hyflex inclusivity tensions with UCL’s head of Digital Accessibility, Ben Watson, and my Arena colleague, Alex Standen, who will be doing a ‘sorry I can’t be with you tonight recorded performance! The slides including pre-recorded videos from Ben and Alex are here:

[click slide and use arrow keys on your keyboard to advance slides or hover over bottom left of slides to find navigation arrows]

Finally, recordings of speakers from the Hybrid symposium event at UCL in June ’22 are included below for convenience and quick reference. The videos below comprise recordings of Ruth Puhr, Fiona Strawbridge (with me chipping in) and Nataša Perović  Profiles page of speakers.

Will Covid-19 finally catalyse the way we exploit digital options in assessment and feedback?

Listen 7m32 s or read below

(Previously posted on the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange blog, 29/3/21) 

The typical child will learn to listen first, then talk, then read, then write. In life, most of us tend to use these abilities proportionately in roughly the same order: listen most, speak next most, read next most frequently and write the least. Yet in educational assessment and feedback, and especially in higher education (HE), we value writing above all else. After writing comes reading, then speaking and the least assessed is listening. In other words, we value most what we use least. I realise this is a huge generalisation and that there are nuances and arguments to be had around this, but it is the broad principle and tendencies here that I am interested in. Given the ways in which technology makes such things as recording and sharing audio and video much easier than even a few years ago (i.e. tools that provide opportunity to favour speaking and listening), it is perhaps surprising how conservative we are in HE when it comes to changing assessment and feedback practices. We are, though, at the threshold of an opportunity whereby our increased dependency on technology, the necessarily changing relationships we are all experiencing due to the ongoing implications of Covid-19 and the inclusive, access and pedagogic affordances of the digital mean we may finally be at a stage where change is inevitable and inexorable.

In 2009 while working in Bradford, I did some research on using audio and video feedback on a postgraduate teaching programme. I was amazed at the impact, the increased depth of understanding of the content of the feedback and the positivity with which it was received. I coupled it with delayed grade release too. The process was: Listen to (or watch) the feedback, e-mail me with the grade band the feedback suggested and then I would return the actual grade and use the similarity or difference (usually, in fact, there was pretty close alignment) to prompt discussion about the work and what could be fed forward. A few really did not like the process but this was more to do with not liking the additional process involved in finding out the grades they had been given rather than the feedback medium itself. Only one student (out of 39) preferred written feedback as a default and this included three deaf students (I arranged for them to receive BSL signed feedback recorded synchronously with an interpreter while I spoke the words).  Most of the students not only favoured it, they actively sought it. While most colleagues were happy to experiment or at least consider the pros, cons and effort needed, at least one senior colleague was a little frosty, hinting that I was making their life more difficult. On balance, I found that once I had worked through the mechanics of the process and established a pattern, I was actually saving myself perhaps 50% of marking time per script though there certainly was some front-loading of effort necessary for the first time.  I concluded that video feedback was powerful but, at that time, too labour- and resource-intensive and stuck with audio feedback for most of the students unless video was requested or needed. I continued to use it in varying ways in my teaching, supporting others in their experimentation and, above all, persuading the ‘powers that be’ that it was not only legitimate but that it was powerful and, for many, preferable. I also began encouraging students to consider audio or video alternatives to reflective pieces as I worked up a digital alternative to the scale-tipping professional portfolios that were the usual end of year marking delight.

Microphone in close up as seen from the perspective of the user

Two years later I found myself in a new job back in London and confronted with a very resistant culture. As is not uncommon, it is an embedded faith and dependency on the written word that determines policy and practice rather than research and pedagogy. In performative cultures, written ‘evidence’ carries so much more weight and trust, apparently irrespective of impact. Research (much better and more credible than my own) has continued to show similar outcomes and benefits (see summary in Winstone and Carless, 2019) but the overwhelming majority of feedback is still of the written/ typed variety. Given the wealth of tools available and the voluminous advocacy generated through the scholarship of teaching and learning and potential of technology in particular (see Newman and Beetham, 2018, for example), it is often frustrating for me that assessment and feedback practices that embrace the opportunities afforded by digital media seemed few and far between.  So, will there ever be a genuine shift towards employing digital tools for assessment design and feedback? As technology makes these approaches easier and easier, what is preventing it?  In many ways the Covid-19 crisis, the immediate ‘emergency response’ of remote teaching and assessing and the way things are shaping up for the future have given a real impetus to notions of innovative assessment. We have seen how many of us were forced to confront our practice in terms of timed examinations and, amid inevitable discussions around the proctoring possibilities technology offered (to be clear: I am not a fan!), we saw discussions about effective assessment and feedback processes occurring and a re-invigorated interest in how we might do things differently.  I am hoping we might continue those discussions to include all aspects of assessment from the informal, in-session formative activities we do through to the ’big’, high-stakes summatives.

Change will not happen easily or rapidly, however. Hargreaves (2010) argues that a principal enemy of education change is social and political conservatism and I would add to that a form of departmental, faculty or institutional conservatism that errs on the side of caution lest evaluation outcomes are negatively impacted.  Covid-19 has disrupted everything and whilst tensions remain between the conservative (very much of the small ‘c’ variety in this context) and change-oriented voices, it is clear that recognition is growing of a need to modify (rather than transpose) pedagogic practices in new environments and this applies equally to assessment and feedback. In the minds of many lecturers, the technology that is focal to approaches to technology enhanced learning is often ill-defined or uninspiring (Bayne, 2015) and the frequent de-coupling of tech investment from pedagogically informed continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities (Compton and Almpanis, 2018) has often reinforced these tendencies towards pedagogic conservatism. Pragmatism, insight, digital preparedness, skills development, and new ways of working through necessity are combining to reveal a need for and willingness to embrace significant change in assessment practices.

As former programme leader of an online PGCertHE (a lecturer training programme) I was always in the very fortunate position to collect and share theories, principles and practices with colleagues, many of whom were novices in teaching. Though of course they had experienced HE as students they were less likely to have had a more fossilised sense of what assessments and feedback should or could look like. I also have the professional and experiential agency to draw on research-informed practices not only by talking about them but through exemplification and modelling (Compton and Almpanis, 2019). By showing that unconventional assessment (and feedback) are allowed and can be very rewarding we are able to sow seeds of enthusiasm that lead to a bottom-up (if still slow!) shift away from conservative assessment practices. Seeing some colleagues embrace these strategies is rewarding but I would love to see more.


Bayne, S. (2015). ‘What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning?’ Learning, Media and Technology, 9 (1), 251-257.

Bryan, C., & Clegg, K. (Eds.). (2019). Innovative assessment in higher education: A handbook for academic practitioners. Routledge.

Compton, M. & Almpanis, T. (2019) Transforming lecturer practice and mindset: Re-engineered CPD and modelled use of cloud tools and social media by academic developers. Chapter in Rowell, C (ed.) Social Media and Higher Education: Case studies, Reflections and Analysis. Open Book Publishers.

Compton, M., & Almpanis, T. (2018). One size doesn’t fit all: rethinking approaches to continuing professional development in technology enhanced learning. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching,11(1).

Hargreaves, A. (2010). ‘Presentism, individualism, and conservatism: The legacy of Dan Lortie’s Schoolteacher: A sociological study’. Curriculum Inquiry, 40(1), 143-154.

Newman, T. and Beetham, H. (2018) Student Digital Experience Tracker 2018: The voices of 22,000 UK learners. Bristol: Jisc.

Winstone, N., & Carless, D. (2019). Designing effective feedback processes in higher education: A learning-focused approach. Routledge.