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: http://www.open.ac.uk/community/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.

Lost at sea!

CC-BY-NC 2.0
Ninja Wolf Lost at Sea by Krysthopher Woods


A super activity to use on those occasions when you are welcoming a new cohort of participants to a programme, and you want an ice-breaker-come-teambuilding exercise that people won’t scoff at.

Put your participants on a yacht in the mid-Atlantic and set the thing alight! Give them 15 potentially life saving items and ask them to decide which they want to keep. What possible use could the chocolate and rum be?

You get the idea. It works so well because it neatly fuses together individual and group decision making processes. And it’s fun. I like to add an additional step to the end which asks the groups to reflect on the group dynamic and team roles and discuss how they perceived their own input, and that of other team members.

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