The F word

PATRIARCHAL EDUCATION 2014“Feminist pedagogy is not a toolbox, a collection of strategies, a list of practices, or a specific classroom arrangement. It is an overarching philosophy—a theory of teaching and learning that integrates feminist values with related theories and research on teaching and learning.”

And so begins one of the most valuable teaching resources I have seen this year, a Guide to Feminist Pedagogy from Vanderbilt University. Beautifully designed around Shulman’s concept of signature pedagogy, this exquisite exposition of the ‘habits of hand, heart and head’ offers a liberating and exhilarating approach to teaching and learning.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

How not to be ignorant about the world

I’m sure that many readers will be familiar with Hans Rosling – one of the best TEDtalkers around I think. But perhaps not everyone will be familiar with the Ignorance Project.

The mission of Gapminder Foundation is to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand. We started the Ignorance Project to investigate what the public know and don’t know about basic global patterns and macro-trends. We use surveys to ask representative groups of people simple questions about key-aspects of global development.

There are teaching materials produced as part of the project, but they are aimed more at schools than HE – but with some recontextualising they could be useful.

But the main reason I highlight this resource, and in particular the video below, is because I think it could be useful to engage students in active and critical thinking and analysis.

The ‘set-up’ by Hans will be familiar if you have watched any of his other TED talks – comparing the understanding of groups of people, in this instance starting with the audience, with what might be achieved by chimpanzees through random responses rather than through knowledge or understanding. But for this talk Hans is joined by his son Ola, who gives us tips on how we might adapt our thinking so that we can ‘beat the chimps’.

The principles of questioning our everyday ‘taken-for-granteds’ and underlying influences on thought such as the popular media could form the basis for many different types of lessons, and the context of world development makes this especially useful for anyone trying to engage students in education for sustainable development and/or global citizenship issues.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Internationalisation in higher education – the view from elsewhere

Image Tup Wanders 2005

Wonderfully, this summary from Canada  is written in French and yet you don’t need to speak French to get the gist of it. The statistics about internationalisation in HE in Canada actually look very similar to those in the UK. This little report, therefore, makes two important points to consider in terms of our learning and teaching. Firstly, that when we are confronted by words that we don’t always understand, let’s focus on similarities rather than differences. This helps us bridge linguistic and cultural barriers and invites conversation and comparison from a starting point of mutual appreciation. Secondly – and even more importantly in the context of increasing internationalisation of HE – a reminder that there is so much to learn from how others see us. We need to talk globally rather than dwell on our internal perspective. We need to live in translation. We need to learn and teach in translation.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.


Creativity is a hard concept to define. Steve Wheeler pretty much nails it with this slide, part of his keynote at the Digital Pedagogies conference held in Doncaster on 3 July. By the power of Twitter (and @christinehough): “This”.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Understanding data visualisation

seeing dataFor those of us who enjoy teaching research methods  (yes, we do exist!) and so spend time searching for ways in which to encourage students to engage with data and evidence, the advances in data visualisation methods have been a godsend!

You don’t have to search far on the ‘net to find excellent examples that can be used in classroom settings, and the tools to create your own visualisations are becoming more accessible.

But sometimes, when asking students to engage with a topic for the first time, it is useful to be able to go back to basics. This resource Understanding data visualisations from the Seeing Data project does just that.

Why do we need to understand data visualisations? There is more and more data around us, and data are increasingly used in decision-making, journalism, and to make sense of the world. One of the main ways that people get access to data is through visualisations, but lots of people feel like they don’t have the skills and knowledge to make sense of visualisations. This can mean that some people feel left out of conversations about data. This resource aims to overcome that problem, by helping people to develop their ability to understand – and enjoy! – data visualisations.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

All Wrapped up!

Christo and Jeanne Claude, Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98
‘Wrapped’ by Bruno Casonato CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Earlier this year, I ran an HEA workshop with Karen Fraser on how you can squeeze the most out of MOOCs in your learning and teaching. I came across the idea of ‘wrapping’ where you integrate a MOOC into a traditional university face-to-face module.


Here is a really good case study by colleagues at Vanderbuilt University.  What I find exciting is that it combines the philosophy of the flipped classroom with pedagogies underpinning blended learning and communities of practice. It may not be an easy approach to take – the case study highlights many of the barriers – but I can see the potential for using open courses in my own teaching. Definitely one to watch!

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

The danger of a single story

Image by Moyan Brenn, 2011

A Nigerian author who gives us a fictional account of the experience of being an African international student in a Western in the powerful novel, Americanah (2014), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains how she found her voice and emphasises the danger of thinking there is only one voice, one narrative. She advocates the need for plurality – recognition that not everybody shares the same story. Stronger than any faith for me, this belief expresses the danger of dominant narratives in our public spaces that shape our learning and teaching. This clip reinforces for me the notion that the stories we tell ourselves, whether about our teaching, our students, our colleagues, our research can be even more meaningful if they are shaped by and for other, different, narratives. It is perhaps the richness of a dialogue over a monologue, an intercultural world rather than a monocultural one. The Christmas story is one single story in our history and culture. Think how many other stories exist living and breathing in our classrooms.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Textbook Cinderellas

CinderellaI love fairy stories.

I love English Literature.

I love teaching.



Once upon a time, now sadly a long time ago, when the ink on my doctoral dissertation was only just dry, I taught my first seminar group. Almost overcome with terror, I found solace in one magical text, Doing English by Robert Eaglestone.

Doing English enabled me to reconcile my experience of English Literature at school with the uncanny experiences of studying English Literature at University – and particularly, it showed me how I could make sense of the English Literature which was unfolding to my undergraduate seminar group as they grappled with the compulsory Critical Theory module under my inexpert tutelage.

Many years later, in a different life as a consultant at Academic Practice at the Higher Education Academy I was lucky enough to work with over 60 National Teaching Fellows on texts which captured their practice. Amongst their number was Robert Eaglestone, who wrote about writing the very text book that had saved me so many years ago.

The resulting piece, Textbook Cinderellas: how metacognition takes a worn format to the ball, argues that textbooks can and should be pedagogically innovative. But what I love most of all, is that it remixes the theories and sensibilities of English Studies with the scholarship of teaching and learning – to create something I find utterly enchanting.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

A little more conversation

Thinking Writing
Image kindly provided by Sally Mitchell (QMUL)

This resource comes from the ‘Thinking Writing’ project at QMUL, which explores the relationship between thinking and writing in higher education. It contains some excellent tools for helping students to write better, but I have also found it useful when reflecting on my own writing skills/habits.

It has made me think differently about the importance of conversation in the writing process. Conversations about a piece of writing – either with yourself, your peers or your wider discipline community – can be transformative learning experiences.

However, when we assess, we often deny students the opportunity to have conversations about their writing to develop it. We instruct them not to collude, that their work must be their own. They don’t have the opportunity to consider our feedback and change what they have written, to re-submit and show us what they have actually learned.

If you think about it, the assessment shouldn’t be the end of the learning process. It should be part of an on-going conversation. Some good suggestions for diversifying assessment are provided.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Up periscope!

OU social media toolkit:

There are a number of guides to using social media in academic settings, but what I love about this toolkit is the breadth of media covered and the focus on learning and teaching.

I blog (obviously!) and use Twitter, LinkedIn and SlideShare – but having looked at this toolkit I am making a New Year’s resolution to explore Periscope and SoundCloud.  Well, it will give me something to blog about 🙂

It is primarily designed as a guide for OU staff, but don’t let that put you off – the advice is useful for anyone working in an academic context. And the case studies section has some insightful observations and tips from OU staff.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.