Re-imagining approaches to supporting students’ learning from feedback – the hidden curriculum, care-based pedagogies and learning communities

The culmination of the assessment cycle at the end of what has been a particularly challenging year offers an opportunity (once we have caught our breaths!) to revisit our understanding of how we can best support our students to learn from and apply their feedback in ways that empower them to proactively shape their own academic and holistic development throughout their studies and beyond.

Taking stock of feedback – the 2020 NSS scores

While the NSS continues to divide opinion, the good news is that despite the disruption of the past year, the overall 2020 NSS scores have remained largely unchanged since 2019. In the area of assessment and feedback, the 2020 scores have confirmed their status as areas of challenge with 73% of students (as in 2019) offering positive responses to the core statements about assessment and feedback.
Commenting on the 2019 NSS assessment and feedback scores, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive Officer of the Office for Students observed:

‘There is still work for universities and colleges to do to ensure that students are provided with clear marking criteria and constructive feedback – key factors in enabling students to reach their potential’.

Nicola Dandridge’s comments underline the gap that exists between lecturers’ and students’ perceptions of ‘constructive feedback’. Bridging this gap requires that we revisit the stakes of feedback with fresh eyes and that we also bring into dialogue the perspectives of students and lecturers as they intersect with the evolutions in the structural and policy contexts in which contemporary UK universities operate. Looking again at standard definitions of feedback is a good place to start.

Minding the Gap: Lecturers’ and Students’ Perspectives on Assessment and Feedback

‘Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement but this impact can be either positive or negative.’

(Hattie and Timperley, 2007)

At the level of educational theory, it is uncontroversial to state as Hattie and Timperley point out that [f]eedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement (…)’. At its best, it is a personalised and timely engagement with students’ specific place within their learning journey offering encouragement and motivation to boost their ongoing learning and attainment. However, when this taken-for-granted, ‘theoretical’ view of feedback is brought into dialogue with the lived experiences of lecturers and students, striking discrepancies in perspectives emerge. For lecturers, faced with marking hundreds of essays at the end of semester while continuing to juggle a host of other professional and lifewide balls, achieving the level of personalised engagement that ‘guarantees’ positive learning impacts can seem particularly daunting. Students, however, express, to varying degrees, some combination of confusion and disappointment when met with written feedback, uncertain how to apply feedback to improve and, in some cases, are stymied by demotivation (Weaver, 2006, Burke, 2009). This seemingly entrenched dissonance between lecturers’ and students’ perceptions of feedback signals the need to enlarge the contextual frame typically assigned explanatory power in discussions of assessment and feedback.

Mass higher education, metrics and the hidden curriculum

The impact of the accelerated transformations of the structural and policy contexts facing universities over the last 20 years is not typically considered in discussions of feedback. Yet, my own academic and professional experience suggests that this context is all too relevant. The combination of increasing student numbers and the long-standing misalignment between the school curriculum and university curricula shows up as two key impacts: first, the personalisation on which effective feedback relies is a significant area of challenge for lecturers requiring explicit provision in time, training and other resources to adequately meet the diversity of students’ needs. And second, students’ previous educational experiences do not necessarily prepare them to understand, decode and engage proactively with the explicit as well as the tacit rules or the ‘hidden curriculum’ that underpin assessment and feedback. In addition, the reported effects of this hidden curriculum are particularly marked for first-generation undergraduates who typically identify along intersectional and socially disadvantaged categories of race, gender and class. Against this backdrop, the increasing recourse to metrics to measure the quality of students’ educational experiences has had the effect of transforming assessment and feedback for many lecturers into a data-driven, pressurised, ‘end-point’ exercise which fails to address the fundamental challenge of supporting students to act on and learn from their feedback [over the whole course of their degree programme].

Learning as a process, care and learning communities

Moving beyond the current impasse requires that we consent, collectively, to re-imagining our approaches to assessment and feedback beyond the metrics. What I’m proposing is not that we ‘do away’ with data but that we begin a shared reflective process that will allow us to re-centre learning as a process (not an outcome) that is underpinned by human relationships infused with care and the commitments of community. In key respects, the pandemic has already moved us in this direction with care an intrinsic dimension of the transitional ‘no-detriment’ assessment policies adopted by Sussex and many other universities. In aligning the what and the how of feedback, these approaches invite us to integrate assessment and feedback within the essentially values-informed work of learning communities as they are being reconfigured in real time in the age of online and blended learning. Over the last academic year, as part of the semester-long academic development workshop series that I’ve been delivering entitled ‘Building online learning communities’, I have worked with lecturers on the exploration of values-informed approaches to teaching and learning in which planning, teaching, assessment and feedback form part of an integrated lifecycle. Through a focus on barriers to community, relationality, hospitability, co-creation and reflection, I have been engaged in mapping out an ethics of learning community which brings awareness to the intersecting dimensions of care for the self and others, power relations, difference, language and identity in the online classroom. An awareness too of how care can be cultivated with intentionality as a process of shared learning over time.

With hindsight, I now realise that I have been fortunate to be part of a university-wide learning community that has been a personally transformative site of learning, allowing me to integrate experience and insights from the different stages of my career across research, teaching and academic development. The following are some new reflections on the core dimensions of re-imagining feedback as a space of individual and collaborative learning which emerge (and continue to emerge) in a year of continuous learning.

Supporting students to learn from their feedback – 7 dimensions

1. Focus on building student feedback literacy.

One of key barriers to students’ ability to learn from feedback is not actually knowing how to learn from feedback. Embedding a focus on building student feedback literacy from the very start of the design phase of assessment and feedback strategies at module and programme levels offers an effective way to begin to address this barrier to learning. Providing written guidelines complemented by ongoing conversations around assessment and feedback integrated within the formative assessment cycle are concrete first steps for cultivating what Winstone et al. (2017) call proactive recipience, defined as “a state or activity of engaging actively with feedback processes”. This approach has been central to my academic development practice. Working with the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, I’ve developed two guides for students on learning from their feedback ‘How to learn from your feedback – a guide for students’ and ‘How to give good peer feedback – a guide for students’. Having been trialed with Linguistics and Online Distance Learning, both guides are available on request and can be uploaded to Canvas sites for a range of modules.

In approaching learning from feedback as a developmental process that can be facilitated with skill, transparency and care over the student lifecycle, we can begin to tap into the transformative potential of assessment and feedback to serve the values of equity, inclusion and empowerment. As a developmental process which is embedded intrinsically with the learning community, the relational dimension of the human relationships which underpin teaching and learning is of central importance.

Connecting students and lecturers in a human-centred developmental process, this approach is essentially capability and growth focused, acknowledging, on the one hand, students as active agents in their own learning. On the other hand, however, it is cognizant of the differences in power and relative agency between students and lecturers. Therefore, it also aims to provide developmental opportunities for lecturers by offering guidelines on the concrete steps they can take to mitigate the unequal effects of the hidden curriculum on different students. In practice, this means making the rules of assessment and feedback explicit by building an ongoing series of learning conversations which spans the entire module, beginning in the introduction to the module lecture and continuing across a schedule of formative assessments. It also means making office hours an approachable context in which all students are aware of the option to explore questions around assessment and feedback. In putting in place these individualised support structures, it will also be important to reflect explicitly on how groups of students such as BAME students who are reported to feel less comfortable (and therefore less likely to) approach their lecturers (e.g. Stevenson, 2012) with questions or concerns can be empowered to access these valuable opportunities to learn from feedback.

2. Make feedback a zone of care and safety by choosing language with sensitivity.

Feedback can be an emotional experience for students. This is an essential but also often overlooked dimension for understanding the observed reticence of many students to act on their feedback. That students ‘feel’ feedback is acknowledged in the educational literature (e.g. Ryan and Henderson, 2018). The power of this feeling response also shows up in students’ descriptions of their lived experiences of feedback in terms of avoidant strategies such as not looking at the written feedback, ‘putting away’ or even discarding the assessed piece of work. These visceral responses suggest that, as psychologists have long established, there is a strong correlation between emotional states and levels of motivation. The tone and language employed to convey feedback therefore have a key role to play in supporting students to access the positive emotional states which predispose them to engage with (rather than avoid) their feedback.

This does not mean that we should only ever give positive feedback. Instead, it is important to aim for an encouraging and respectful tone which strikes a balance between communicating the merits of the piece of work and suggesting areas for improvement. Ultimately, the tone of feedback is an expression of the fundamental values which inform the culture of learning that is cultivated (explicitly and implicitly) within the classroom. Therefore, in choosing the language of feedback with sensitivity, we model with consistency (through our individualised interactions with students and with the larger group) the values of positive relationality and hospitability which contribute to re-creating feedback as a site of emotional safety in the context of which students are empowered to learn.

3. Aim to answer three key questions.

Building on a learning context infused with care, the motivation to learn from feedback is also shaped by the clarity of the feedback provided. A helpful way to approach feedback is to therefore to seek to answer the following three questions:
a. What are the strengths?
b. What can be improved?
c. What next steps should be taken?
In all three areas, it is important to use precise language (e.g. explain terms such as ‘lack of critical analysis’) and give examples which refer to specific parts of the piece of work. When commenting on areas that require improvement, it is essential to focus on a small number of areas (no more than 4). It is also advisable to refer to ‘your work/essay/conclusion etc.’ as an alternative to using the personal pronoun ‘you’ to signal what the student ‘did not do’. Finally, aim to offer suggestions for practical steps that students can take to improve their performance on the next assignment.

4. Timing matters.

The timeliness of feedback also has a key role to play in students’ learning (Race and Pickford, 2007) since, perhaps unsurprisingly, feedback is applied with greatest effectiveness if it received while the experience of completing the assignment is still fresh in the mind. Taking an intentional approach to scheduling marking time and breaks is therefore an essential dimension of effective academic practice. However, given the size of some cohorts, it is worth exploring ways of supporting the achievement of the required turnaround time for marking. One approach to electronic feedback used in some universities is to develop a ‘feedback bank’ of common comments from which the marker can cut and paste. These can then be used as the foundation for personalised elements of feedback. Whatever approach one choses, however, it is essential to retain the personalised dimension of any feedback provided.

5. Tap into the power of learning community with peer feedback.

Offering students opportunities to engage in peer feedback as part of their formative assessments is another potentially transformative context in which learning from feedback can take place. This is because the reframing of the top-down power dynamic which is (perhaps unconsciously) transmitted by traditional models of feedback as an egalitarian process of exchange between peers can present students with new and liberatory ways of viewing and assessing their abilities. Peer feedback also has a key role to play in demystifying the assessment and feedback process by, for example, allowing students to work with the same assessment rubrics that will be applied to their own work. However, as I highlight in ‘How to give good peer feedback – a guide for students’, it is important to make the case for engaging in peer feedback and to offer students explicit guidelines on how to offer constructive and respectful feedback which upholds the values of the learning community.

6. Review, reflect, adapt and commit to continuous learning.

Learning from feedback is not simply relevant to students. A ‘learning communities’ approach to assessment and feedback is also an invitation to lecturers to engage in a process of continuous learning about how best to support students. Designing learning into assessment and feedback systems is an effective starting point. This translates into setting up feedback and review points across the cycle of the module. These can include a mix of formal review points such as the mid-semester module feedback and informal feedback through in-class discussions of how students are experiencing the feedback. Finally, completing the cycle of learning relies on scheduling time to reflect on and integrate lessons learned into the approaches to assessment and feedback for the coming academic year.

7. Develop module- and programme-level approaches to disseminating best practice.

While marking and giving feedback can often be experienced as an individual endeavour, lecturers’ ability to engage in the continuous learning required to support students’ learning from their feedback is, in fact, best facilitated in the context of module-level and programme-level learning communities which allow best practice to be cultivated and disseminated amongst peers. An added benefit of this approach is the possibility of beginning a collegial conversation around how students’ learning from feedback can best be supported as transferable skills which can be mapped progressively across a suite of modules. One of the aims of my academic development work for the School of Media, Arts and Humanities over the coming academic year is to begin this conversation in partnership with Directors of Teaching and Learning as well as teaching teams – starting with the creation of dynamic contexts in which module, programme and discipline-specific knowledge on assessment and feedback can be recognised and shared.

In projecting towards my own ongoing learning about assessment and feedback in community, it occurs to me that the learning community is, ultimately, a shared horizon of learning whose potentiality (to recontextualise Maurice Blanchot’s formulation) is always ‘to come’. In other words, to be continued…

Dr Eva Sansavior, Academic Developer for the School of Media, Arts and Humanities.
About me
My academic development practice builds on experience gained in major UK and Irish universities across roles in research and teaching with integrated and wide-ranging student pastoral responsibilities. A published researcher in the fields of Francophone Postcolonial Studies and Global Caribbean cultures, my current research and academic development practice are situated at the thematic interface of social justice, creative pedagogies and learning communities. Over the last academic year, I have been running the semester-long series of TEL workshops ‘Building online learning communities’. On June 30th, 2021, I organised the university-wide online symposium ‘Decolonising the Curriculum at Sussex’.

Boud, D and Molloy, E (2013) ‘Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38 (6): 698–712.
Burke, D (2009) ‘Strategies for using feedback students bring to higher education’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 34 (1): 41–50.
Foster, K, C (2008) ‘The transformative potential of teacher care as described by students in a higher education access initiative’, Education and Urban Society, 41(1): 104–126.
Hattie, J and Timperley, H (2007) ‘The power of feedback’, Review of Educational Research, 77 (1): 81-112.
Race, P and Pickford, R (2007) Making Teaching Work: Teaching Smarter in Post-Compulsory Education. London: Sage.
Ryan, T and Henderson, M (2018) ‘“Feeling feedback”: students’ emotional responses to educator feedback’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43 (6): 880–892.
Sambell, K and McDowell, L (1998) ‘The Construction of the hidden curriculum: Messages and meanings in the assessment of student learning’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 23 (4): 391–402.
Sansavior, E (2021) ‘How to learn from your feedback – a guide for students’. (Available on request)
Sansavior, E (2021) ‘How to give good peer feedback – a guide for students’. (Available on request)
Stevenson, J (2012) Black and Minority Ethnic Student Degree Retention and Attainment. York: Higher Education Academy.
Winstone, N, Nash, R A, Parker M and Rowntree, J (2017) ‘Supporting Learners’ Agentic Engagement with Feedback: A Systematic Review and a Taxonomy of Recipience Processes’, Educational Psychologist, 52 (1): 17-37.
Weaver, M. R (2006) ‘Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors’ written responses’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 31 (3): 379–394.

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Posted in Assessment and Feedback, online communities

The ‘Law’ Critique and Question Reading and Writing Group: a space to connect ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ students

Guest post by Verona Ní Drisceoil (Senior Lecturer in Law, Sussex Law School) and year 1 students Ayodele Idowu-Bello, Tyrone Logue, Plum Philips, Judith Ohen and Miles Ratcliffe.

Verona Ní Drisceoil is a Senior Lecturer in Law (Education and Scholarship) at SLS. Verona is currently working on two projects. One, with Imogen Moore (Bristol), exploring ‘confidence, community and voice’ in law school transitions and another exploring inclusion, exclusion and hierarchies in law schools. This second project asks, ‘who is not in the room and why not?’.


In this blog post we share, as students and faculty member, our experience of, and reflections on, the ‘Law’ Critique and Question Group of 20/21. In this respect, we speak to the power of coming together – students and faculty – to share and connect in a non-hierarchical space to critique and question the law. In doing so, we managed to create something special and powerful – to do and be ‘otherwise’ (Jivraj, 2020). We also, in part at least, managed to transgress (Hooks, 1994) the problematic structures that dominate the student/teacher relationship and continuum in Higher Education (HE) and ultimately to build a virtual community of friendship and connection during the pandemic.

In the spirit and ethos of the Group, we deliberately write this post as a collective, but we will, as appropriate, highlight the unique experiences of faculty member and student/s. We do this too as a means of providing a potential roadmap for others – whether faculty or student/s – who would like to create something similar within HE spaces and across different disciplines. We appreciate that reading/writing groups are not a new concept, but we nonetheless suggest that there was something unique created in this space. It was ‘liberatory’ and ‘transgressing,’ not only in content but in its being and approach. It allowed a space to ‘reimagine’ HE spaces outside the classroom.

In this post, we begin by outlining the vision for the Group before then moving on to provide an overview of what we engaged with and why. It concludes with reflections on the impact of the Group and plans for the future.

The vision for the group

As Verona noted in her invite to us at the start of the autumn term 2020, this group was set up as ‘a non-hierarchical space for year 1 students to come together to read, to reflect and to practice writing’.She noted thatthe group, was intended to be an accompaniment to the year 1 ‘English Legal System’ module (which Verona convenes in the department of Law at the University of Sussex) but also a space within which to challenge and critique that very system and to engage with a range of readings that had a decolonial and challenge-the-status-quo focus. Drawing on the words of Foluke Adebisi (2020), Verona reminded us that ‘to achieve a legal framework that works for all, we must include histories, voices, experiences and worldviews that are (often) absent and silenced…’ In this online space then, our aim was to embrace and champion voices, experiences and worldviews that are deliberately silenced as part of ‘law’s violence’ and ‘as violence’ as we read in our first reading – (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire by Nadine El Enany (2020).

Though reiterating that the group was intended to be ‘organic in nature, and not formally structured in an academic sense’ Verona suggested that the following might be potential benefits to joining the Group:

  • Allow you to engage in wider reading and expand your horizons and thinking
  • Develop critical thinking, explore positionality. How do I/you view law?
  • Develop writing skills – particularly how to engage and use secondary source materials to enhance your writing/argument; and
  • Build confidence in voice work and developing an argument in writing.

Finally, Verona stressed that she would not be taking any position of ‘knowing’ in the group, rather taking this journey of reading, reflecting – learning and unlearning – with us as students. On reflection, Verona said ‘I’m not sure I succeeded on that front’. In her own reflection of self, Verona as ‘the’ faculty member said that she knows she often slipped too easily into the position of tutor/teacher and, at times, took up too much space. As a teacher, she reflected, ‘it’s hard to be silent sometimes – silence can be frightening for teachers and I/we often default to filling space when in fact all we need to do is just be, and sit in silence, especially when there is any discomfort. It is ok to be uncomfortable. As Lee-Ann Sequeira (2020) reminds us, silence is only a problem if we make it so. Further still Danielle Hinton (2021) has been quick to remind us that ‘listening, reflecting and all those other potentially silent behaviours are important parts of the learning journey.’ One striking positive of the pandemic (according to Verona) is that it has forced educators to reflect more deeply on the fact that ‘engagement’ presents in a multitude of ways.

All that was asked, in signing up, was to do so with the intention of engaging and being part of a collective space and respectful dialogue’. In total, 45 students signed up to the Group with 12-15 regularly joining the sessions in the autumn term. In the spring term, this number dropped down to approximately 8-10 students per session.

A selection of books annotated with the text 'critique + q'

Highlights from the autumn term

Beginning in week 3 of the autumn term, the sessions were held fortnightly on a Tuesday at 6pm (UK time) via Zoom for an hour or just over. Canvas, the University’s VLE, was used to facilitate announcements regarding readings, updates, and optional tasks. At the end of each session, we used a poll on Zoom to select from a potential choice of readings and podcasts. This element of choice was key to this collective and democratic space and ‘doing otherwise.’

As noted above, our first reading was from El-Enany’s wonderful book (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire. This book explores how immigration law is a form of violence, and that Britain continues to colonise through spoils of empire. Ayo noted that ‘it was interesting to hear many people in the Group say they never realised how bad the immigration system was/is in this country’. For me, being an immigrant ‘this was my reality and something I had to go through’. She went on to say that (B)ordering Britain shines an illuminating light on ‘how this country likes to paint an image or create this facade of being inclusive and being accessible to all when in all honesty that is false.’ Britain has redefined the word ‘inclusive’ to pick and choose who is deserving and who is not. There is, to draw from El Enany’s work, an ‘ordering’ and this ordering is often racialised.

At each session we dealt with new material/s of varying content. Please see the references for a complete list of works discussed. To complement the text and audio material, we also undertook writing exercises, such as free writing exercises, respond and reflect exercises, and a summarise/paraphrase exercise.

Highlights from the spring term

Though intended to be an autumn term initiative, we all agreed that we would like to keep this space going for the spring term. One of the group members noted that ‘it provided a welcome reprieve’ particularly as we were now in lockdown again. Connection and belonging, we agreed, was needed, for all of us. Tyrone suggested that in the spring term we should begin by selecting a reading or audio that does not align with our views to generate interesting discussion/critical analysis/written responses. In that vein, we started with an interview with Jordan Peterson on the Me Too movement. As a group, this was an interesting exercise and one that allowed us to not only explore and consider Peterson’s deeply problematic argument/positioning (as we saw it) but the manner and approach he takes to ‘deliver’. We reflected on his ‘confidence’ (arrogance?) and how it can be easy to miss his ‘actual’ position because of the way he presents. How damaging this is and can be. As Law students, considering the way in which someone delivers and presents, allowed us an important entry point to talk about the role of voice work, advocacy, and the power of persuasion, particularly as legal practitioners, and indeed the biases present in our perception of a particular type of confidence/voice work. Our writing exercise that week was a reflective one on ‘what is confidence?’ We also explored what makes a good written argument.

As with the autumn term, at each session we dealt with new material/s of varying content. Please see the references for a complete list of works discussed.

Not just a reading group…

The selection of readings and podcasts we engaged with all provided important provocations and points for us to pause, reflect, learn, and unlearn. In this space, we, as per our aim, considered experiences and worldviews that are often absent and silenced in mainstream law curriculums. But beyond that, the group provided a space for true connection and friendship – for relationality, where, as Ayo put it, ‘it felt like we were equals’ despite our ‘different backgrounds and different life experiences’.

Plum echoed this point. She spoke of the importance of this space to ‘connect with other members of the law school, but also to pause and coalesce learning generally’. She noted that ‘the sessions revealed and examined – who it (the law) doesn’t serve, and how ‘it’ fails, often. For Miles, the space and group helped him ‘to absorb and listen’ to the thoughts and reflections of others. This, he noted, ‘helped me to refine and understand my social and political views better, being able to state them with more confidence and conviction (something that I have struggled with in the past)’. For Judith, pushing beyond the curriculum was welcomed. The great thing about the ‘Law’ Critique Group, she said ‘was the opportunity to discuss multiple topics that were outside our curriculum’. Like Miles, Judith noted that the group ‘helped me improve my verbal and written argument through the pre-readings and writing tasks’. Finally, and most importantly there was, as Ayo noted, ‘a sense of belonging’ in that space.

The importance of community and belonging in HE

Over the past year, there has been much focus, rightly, on the importance of a pedagogy of care approach within HE. (Maha Bali, 2020) The literature tells us that there is an important need to create spaces where students can build a sense of community and belonging even if this is online. The focus of the community and belonging debate is, however, often on ‘for’ students rather than ‘with’ students. This group was about the ‘with’ and not the ‘for’ and as noted by all of us there was so much gained in that space – more than can be put into words, in fact.

What’s next for the ‘Law’ Critique Group?

This group, despite never meeting in person, became a space to connect, support and ‘do otherwise’. Together and relationally we will continue with this journey in 21/22. Who knows what next term will bring and how the group and space may evolve and grow, whether online or not? We, as a collective, faculty member and students, are certainly excited for the next ‘chapter’. Together, we will continue to challenge, critique and question.

Reference list:

Adebisi, F. (2020) ‘Who am I?’, African Skies. Available at: (Accessed: 10 September 2020).

Bali, M. (2020) ‘ Pedagogy of Care: Covid-19 Edition’, Reflecting Allowed, 28 May. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2021).

Hinton, D. (2021) [Twitter] April 10. Available at: (Accessed: 25 May 2021).

Hooks, B. (1994) Teaching to Transgress: Education and the Freedom of Practice.  London: Routledge.

Jivraj, S. (2020) ‘Decolonizing the Academy – Between a Rock and a Hard Place’, International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 22(4), pp.552-73.

Sequeira, L. (2020) ‘Silence in the classroom is not necessarily a problem’, LSE, 9 July. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2021).

Group reading/audio material:

Bulley, D., Edkins, J., and El-Enany, N. (2019) After Grenfell: Violence, Resistance and Response. London: Pluto Press.

El-Enany, N. (2020) (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Hayes, B., and Nagle, J. (2019) ‘Ethnonationalism and attitudes towards same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland’, International Political Science Review 40(4), p.455-69. doi/10.1177/0192512118775832

Levi, G. (2020) Surviving Society. E004 The USA Election Reflection with Levi Gahman: Settler colonialism, masculinity & class [Podcast]. 30 October. Available at: (Accessed: 25 May 2021).

Paz, C. (2020) ‘What Liberals Don’t Understand About Pro-Trump Latinos’, The Atlantic, 29 October. Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2020).

Peterson, J. (2018) Jordan Peterson on the #Metoo Moment. Available at: (Accessed: 25 May 2021).

Phipps, A. (2020) Me Not you: The trouble with mainstream feminism. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Rashid, N. (2016) Veiled Threats: Representing the Muslim Woman in Public Policy Discourses. London: Policy Press.

Rogaly, B. ‘Working-Class Unity’, Discover Society, 1 July. Available at: (Accessed 25 May 2021).

Titley, G. (2021) Surviving Society. E117 Gavan Titley: Is Free Speech Racist? [Podcast]. 2 February. Available at: (Accessed: 25 May 2021).

Sokhi-Bulley, B. ‘From Exotic to “Dirty”: How the Pandemic has Re-colonised Leicester’, Discover Society, 16 July. Available at: (Accessed 25 May 2021).

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Posted in Inclusion and Accessibility, online communities, students as partners

How the pandemic covertly made teaching, learning and assessment more inclusive

Graphic, depicting a computer, surrounded by icons indicating a variety of online activity. Including, search, images, video, mail and chat.
Dan Axson profile picture

Dan is an Academic Developer in Technology Enhanced Learning here at the University of Sussex. Inclusion, accessibility and digital capabilities are his areas of interest.


There is little doubt the pandemic has been overwhelmingly challenging for most, but there are areas in which we can be optimistic. In higher education, with teaching, learning and assessment moving online, there is a lot to learn from how things adapted. Through the lenses of digital capability and the Universal Design for Learning framework (UDL), this blog post explores how we adapted, how it maps to the UDL framework, suggests some emerging evidence of its positive impact on inclusion and accessibility, and finally proposes what our next steps might be.

Lens 1: Digital Capabilities.

‘Digital capability is the term we use to describe the skills and attitudes that individuals and organisations need if they are to thrive in today’s world.’ (Jisc). Digital capability has benefited a great deal from the pandemic. In our personal lives we used video conferencing to connect with friends and family, collaboration tools to work from home. The same is true of teaching, learning and assessment. Many of us using technologies that until March 2020, we’d largely not been aware of. There was little to no incentive, nor reason, to routinely engage with such technologies.

Then a little virus had other ideas. We had to learn how to teach via Zoom, how to better use our virtual learning environment (VLE), how to use chat, discussions and breakout rooms in live sessions. We had to learn how to help our students submit digital files, how to troubleshoot, the list goes on. Those of you who have looked at the framework, you’ll recognise where these activities fall within the defined areas of digital capability. No doubt you will recognise more in yourself.

It’s not an understatement to say that many of us, myself included, have way more digital capability in Spring 2021 than we did going into Spring 2020. No amount of CPD, Digital Skills conferences, initiatives or job description editing could have hoped to achieve this on that scale and at that pace. It took a global health crisis.

Lens 2: Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning is ‘a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.’ (CAST). Below are examples of how UDL might be, or has been, implemented as a result of the pandemic for each of the three principles; Engagement, Representation, Action and Expression.


  • Checkpoint 7.3: Minimize threats and distractions
    Reducing sensory overload by reducing the amount of activities or ways in which to contribute in an online seminar. Where you may have had two to three activities in a seminar, you now had one, with other activities engaged with asynchronously. 


  • Checkpoint 1.1: Offer ways of customising the display of information
    Display information in a flexible format. Use of templates for modules sites, provided digitally accessible material, presented in a consistent manner. Increase use of video and captioning.

Action and Expression

  • Checkpoint 4.1 Vary the methods for response and navigation
    Alternative methods for engaging. Question and answer in lectures can be a challenge for some to manage on a small single screen device. Switching between Zoom, Poll Everywhere, Padlet and Canvas would cause too much challenge. Instead colleagues are looking at ways of inviting responses pre and post lecture.

As you can see, whilst many of the adaptations aren’t explicitly intended to make things more inclusive and accessible (arguably they should have been), rather they were an ‘emergency pivot’ for business learning continuity. 

What impact are we starting to see?

With many factors at play, (e.g. safety nets, academic misconduct, extenuating circumstance (EC) claims), there is still a lot to unpick, so what I present below is just my observations. Where I am seeing and hearing this evidence of impact is from the mouths of our colleagues and students. Reporting specifically in two key areas: attendance and attainment.


Many academics are reporting higher attendance in online sessions, also sustained attendance. Where in the past they may have seen a drop off towards the assessment period, this is not happening at the same level. Similarly, some are reporting that their online sessions are averaging a higher attendance rate than in prior years. It could be that the option to join a session from home because of caring or similar responsibilities will mean they can attend, where they otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s worth noting here that attendance does not equal engagement, though that conversation is for another post.


There is cautious optimism when it comes to attainment, and associated gaps with various student demographics. Some colleagues in course reviews have commented that a reduction in failure rate is attributable to the diversification of assessment types. It’s too early in this instance to fully attribute this to online assessment, or change in assessment design. Or as is more likely, a combination of factors.

We must approach this with an open mind. For example, with EC claims, was there an increase in these because they were clearer and better signposted? Was it because of technical issues, and therefore we would expect a reduction next time, or with learning from home in a pandemic being the dominant space, were there caring, health or environmental issues? Again, likely a combination.

Your digital capability matters

Many of the positive adaptations to learning and assessment will not have been possible without us collectively improving our digital capability, both institutionally and individually. Our ability to create more inclusive and accessible spaces for learning is in large part dependent on our digital capability.

What now?

I know this raises more questions than it answers at this stage. The ones I’m keen to explore are as follows:

  • Has digital capability widened the range of activities and methods by which a student can engage, thus being more inclusive?
  • Through the lens of UDL, have changes in assessment mode and design made them more inclusive, in turn having the impact of reducing attainment gaps?

Through the two lenses, what can you identify in your practice? What digital capabilities have you developed? What can you now recognise as inclusive practice, that maybe wasn’t explicitly so? 

For those of you at Sussex, if you would be interested in exploring these with us or want to find out how we can support your scholarly activities in these areas and more, please get in touch.


Jisc Digital Capability Framework

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines from CAST

A series of very excellent UDL webinars hosted by The Support Centre Inclusive Higher Education (SIHO, Belgium): Towards genuinely inclusive universities

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Posted in Inclusion and Accessibility, online teaching

Reflections on different engagement techniques whilst teaching online

person writing on notebook

Guest post by Seun Osituyo

Seun Osituyo is a Lecturer in Accounting and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She teaches Management Accounting, Introduction to Accounting and Auditing. Her research interests include risk disclosure, risk management, sustainability communication and strategic management accounting practices.

Student engagement is a very useful part of our job as tutors as it helps us check that learning has taken place (Butcher, Davies and Highton, 2006). But what exactly do I mean by student engagement here? Authors such as Axelson and Flick (2011) suggest that student engagement could lie somewhere between a serious commitment to mere appearance in the classroom. Relating student engagement to learning, Astin (1999) suggests that learning could be a reflection of both “quantity and quality of students’ physical and psychological energy” invested. This brings me to my adapted definition of student engagement –

being present and actively participating during teaching sessions, to check that learning outcomes are achieved.

My quest was to find out what was happening behind those black screens during the synchronous lectures and seminars and to identify other ways to promote active participation in this covid era.

Here I would share my thoughts and experience on student engagement from teaching both quantitative and qualitative accounting modules in this academic year.

What proved useful in Term 1 of 2020-2021 academic session?

Qualitative accounting modules are largely delivered to students at the more advanced undergraduate level or postgraduate level. The nature of topics for the module I taught in term 1 required students to read selected academic research articles on the related topics each week and prepare to discuss at the seminar. The terms endogenous connections (making connections with the research articles) and exogenous connections (application) are very useful here (Strømsø, Bråten, and Samuelstuen, 2003). Students were expected not only to read and understand the research articles but to make sense of it and apply to what they already know and to real life situations. During my first lecture with the cohort I did a poll where I asked students to choose if they preferred purely calculation-based exam questions or purely discursive exam questions. The responses I received inspired the need to ensure that they were evidently engaged, on the discursive topics!

The lecture materials were designed in a way that I could ask questions from time to time not only about what I covered but to see how students would apply the concept to ‘real situations’. For example, when teaching on the topic Accountability, students were asked to discuss the question – ‘Who is the University of Sussex accountable to’ in breakout rooms. At the start of a seminar and lecture most times, I re-emphasised that working in groups might be more beneficial for discursive topics as they will get to actively learn from each other. The key here was keeping the breakout room discussions very short. Oftentimes I would share a file with instruction and time (usually five minutes to discuss and two minutes to put a summary of the discussion on a virtual board e.g. Padlet).

It must be noted that not all students used the breakout rooms. Some students used the breakout rooms to discuss research articles and lots of ideas in summary were provided by one student from each virtual group on Padlet. Some students preferred not to join breakout rooms but provided individual answers on Padlet. Sometimes (in very few occasions) students felt comfortable to unmute themselves and discuss their summaries during the seminars. Many did not. Taking into consideration the individual circumstances of people, these summaries were then discussed by the tutor. It was interesting to see different ideas on Padlet and more so that all of them get to see what other (virtual) groups thought about the articles. In all of this, I said to myself – “as long as we find a way to communicate with one another, there is an opportunity for learning to take place”. This was also useful for me to check that the learning outcomes were achieved both during the seminars and lectures. On reflection, I probably could have recorded only parts where I spoke at the seminar.

My experience in the quantitative accounting module in term 1 was quite different. Students engaged more using the chat section possibly because questions were mainly calculation-based. Students will be given a question to answer within the timeframe (e.g. seven minutes) and then put the result in the chat section. I will of course go over the explanation again for students that did not get it right. Verbal responses from students were not popular especially when all participants were online. On reflection, maybe breakout rooms might have also worked for calculation-based seminars.

What have I tried in Term 2?

OK, I did not stop there. In term 2 I wanted to introduce flipped learning through asynchronous teaching in one of my modules. My reasons for this were as follows.

Firstly, flipped learning provides individual students with the autonomy to learn at their own pace within reason. In addition to attempting seminar questions, Fisher, Perényi and Birdthistle (2018) suggest that flipped learning provides students with an individual learning space where they can be confident about their knowledge of concepts. Of course, the use of inappropriate pedagogy might lead to resistance of this approach by students. Hence the students should be able to see how the flipped learning materials link to the overall module content (Turan and Goktas, 2016). So, in most cases, I would split one of the topic learning outcomes into smaller unit objectives and create content based on these objectives.   

Secondly, I observed some colleagues both in my school and in other institutions who have used pre-recorded videos and they gave good feedback especially on student engagement.

Thirdly, depending on numerous factors, such as different time zones, some students may be unable to join all synchronous lectures. Yes, the synchronous lectures can be recorded, and real-time interactions between the lecturer or tutor and students are beneficial but students who are unable to attend the live sessions at all especially due to reasons beyond their control (e.g. broadband issues) may feel excluded and have less opportunity to fully engage with the module, in my opinion, if all lectures and seminars are synchronous. I also wanted to offer an opportunity for students to learn both asynchronously and synchronously and appreciate their distinctive benefits.

Lastly, I still very much wanted to have more interactive live sessions with students. My thoughts were if students understand the basics of what we would cover during the synchronous lecture beforehand, it will yield a more useful and interactive synchronous session.

To ensure that students had the opportunity to fully participate during the synchronous lecture, the pre-lecture videos were provided well in advance. I embedded at least one quiz in most pre-lecture videos which students will have to attempt before proceeding to the other parts of the video. I will then collate student responses and discuss at the start of the synchronous lecture. This was very useful to check that what I explained in the video was understood.

Did this improve active participation at the synchronous lecture?

In comparison to last term, I will say yes. More students actively participated during the synchronous lecture. Students answered questions when asked, and asked questions. The discussion seemed to flow well. In some cases, we were able to quickly move into numerical questions during the synchronous lecture, which I would ask them to attempt first by applying their knowledge from the concepts covered in the pre-lecture video. This seemed to work well as some students came up with the right answer.

I am not sure if this is related but the attendance rate has also been very good on this module. We are now in week 5 and we have had at least 70% of students attending the synchronous lecture every week out of a class of over 200 students. This is slightly better than my term 1 attendance rate. Although I would not want to make an unfair comparison here as this is an entirely different cohort from the students that I taught in term 1 and it is also a different module. Other factors might have played a role in this, for example the synchronous lecture for this module starts at 9 am on Monday.

Student feedback about the pre-lecture videos collected during one of the synchronous lectures suggests that the pre-lecture videos have also been useful for them. Here are just a few comments from the feedback:

“allows you to be flexible, able to watch the videos when it is the best time for you.”

“well paced and interactive”.

Future implications

Providing different opportunities for students to engage such as flipped learning and group discussions with the aid of technology enhanced learning tools promote active participation. One thing is certain, if I had not attended trainings provided by the Higher Education Academy (now Advanced HE) and used some of these skills in my teaching during the pre-covid era, I might have found student engagement in these times a bit challenging. Trainings provided by TEL Sussex were very useful and applying these skills have contributed to the more ‘engaged’ classroom I now have.

Group discussions:

These have always been encouraged on discursive modules (Bruun, Lindahl and Linder, 2019). I am now introducing virtual group discussions to first year students. Students should be encouraged to use it more, in my opinion, as if used properly stimulates active learning and helps build a sense of community for students. Group discussions can be in different forms and do not necessarily need to be verbal e.g. using virtual blackboards like Padlet. More importantly, students should be able to communicate with each other in the way they feel best.

Will I consider using flipped learning in the post-covid era?

Flipped learning is not a new teaching approach and has been used since the 1990s. I have come to appreciate the usefulness of providing pre-lecture activities especially with uncertainties facing us tutors where we are sometimes not able to tell what happens behind those screens. The flipped learning approach makes the class more active, we are able to address any concerns about the introductory aspect of a topic as soon as possible (e.g. at the start of the synchronous lecture), before moving on to the more technical aspects. I felt the teaching and learning flowed more, with a very good attendance rate at the synchronous lectures. Although making these videos can be tedious and time consuming, the benefits are endless. If practical, I will use them again.


Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education.

Axelson, R. D., & Flick, A. (2010). Defining student engagement. Change: The magazine of higher learning43(1), 38-43.

Bruun, J., Lindahl, M., & Linder, C. (2019). Network analysis and qualitative discourse analysis of a classroom group discussion. International Journal of Research & Method in Education42(3), 317-339.

Butcher, C., Davies, C., & Highton, M. (2006). Designing learning: From module outline to effective teaching. UK: Routledge.

Fisher, R., Perényi, Á., & Birdthistle, N. (2018). The positive relationship between flipped and blended learning and student engagement, performance and satisfaction. Active Learning in Higher Education, 1469787418801702.

Strømsø, H. I., Bråten, I., & Samuelstuen, M. S. (2003). Students’ strategic use of multiple sources during expository text reading: A longitudinal think-aloud study. Cognition and instruction21(2), 113-147.

Turan, Z., & Goktas, Y. (2016). The Flipped Classroom: instructional efficiency and impact of achievement and cognitive load levels. Journal of e-learning and knowledge Society12(4).

Posted in Guest Post, online teaching

How can we improve Module Evaluation Questionnaires?

focused woman writing in clipboard while hiring candidate

by Junko Winch

Junko Winch is a Lecturer of Japanese at the School of Media, Arts and Humanities at the University of Sussex.

Module Evaluation Questionnaires (MEQs) are an important source of student feedback on teaching and learning. They are also often relied upon as evidence cases for promotion and teaching. However, in their current form they suffer from low response rates reducing their usefulness and validity. Local practices have grown to address the need for feedback but they are inconsistent year on year or across the university. Existing research on teaching evaluations indicates that there are a source of bias and suggests careful design of MEQs.

The MEQ project

The MEQ project was undertaken to inform the University of Sussex’s policy and practice. The output was presented to the University’s Surveys Group for their strategic direction of University of Sussex.

Research Questions (RQ) and the corresponding methods

Literature review

The literature review revealed tutors’ and students’ biases related to MEQs. However, bias is a source of unreliability, which also threatens validity. Validity and reliability are defined in various terms, but for the purpose of this report, validity is defined as “the general term most often used by researchers to judge quality or merit” (Gliner et al., 2009, 102) and reliability as “consistency with which we measure something” (Robson, 2002, 101). 

Tutors’ related biases
Students’ related biases

The findings and recommendations

1. The purpose of MEQs

MEQs have three purposes: institutional, teaching and academic promotion. To help to reduce the bias effects outlined in the literature, full MEQs and other teaching related data should be provided to promotion panels to avoid the cherry picking of comments or data by applicants. For example, quantitative data such as class average attendance rate, average, minimum and maximum marks as well as qualitative response analysis would help build a more accurate overall picture of the class.

2. Analysis of MEQs

Students’ biases mentioned in the literature may present difficulty in relying on MEQs as sole instrument. Furthermore, the current MEQ statements may confuse students due their contents and wording.

Following points are suggested:

  • Purpose and goal of the questionnaire should be clearly stated. The purpose of the stakeholders should be taken into account when designing the MEQs to ensure that the intended MEQ purpose is achieved.
  • Some statements ask two questions in one statement. However, some students may not necessarily answer both questions, which affect validity.
  • Consideration should be given to the words such as ‘satisfied’ which might have different connotations depending on cultures and individuals.


Carefully developed MEQs have potential to offer valuable insights to all stakeholders. The primary recommendation is to undertake a staff-student partnership to agree the purpose of the MEQs and co-design a revised instrument that meets the stated purpose.


I have engaged this project as my CPD and appreciate that it has given me various opportunities. For example, I was given an opportunity to write this blog. Furthermore, giving a presentation to the University Surveys Group reminded me of my doctorate viva as the University Survey Group included Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Students, Associate Dean of the Business School and the Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor of Student Experience. When answering questions from the University Survey Group, I learned how difficult it is to meet the needs of different perspectives and cultures. For example, I was asked a question from a quality assurance perspective, which was unexpected as I wrote this Report from a teaching staff perspective. The University Survey Group also included Students’ Experience team which also made me consider another perspective involving MEQs. Furthermore, working with my colleague from the Business School made me realise the departmental/academic discipline’s cultural differences from where I am affiliated (School of Media, Arts and Humanities). Looking back, this was a very valuable experience for me and I will recommend any colleagues who wish to join the DARE Scholarship programme to undertake a similar project.


Carrell, S. E., & West, J. E. (2010). Does professor quality matter? Evidence from random assignment of students to professors. Journal of Political Economy, 118, 409–432.

Gliner, J.A., Morgan, G. A. & Leech, N. L. (2009), Research Methods in Applied SettingsAn Integrated Approach to Design and Analysis, N.Y., Routledge.

Patrick, C. L. (2011). Student evaluations of teaching: effects of the Big Five personality traits, grades and the validity hypothesis. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education36(2), 239–249

Robson, C. (2002). Real World Research –Second Edition, Oxford, Blackwell.

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Posted in Guest Post

“The wheels firmly on the bus” Reflections on teaching a new module in the ‘new normal’

by Jeanette Ashton & Paolo Oprandi

About the authors

Jeanette Ashton is a Lecturer in Law and a Non-Practising solicitor, having joined the University of Sussex after 8 years at Brighton University.  She teaches Contract law, Equity and Trusts and Understanding Law.  Her research interests are legal education, whistleblowing and contract law.  She is Employability lead for the Law School and co-leads the CLOCK legal companion scheme.

Paolo Oprandi is a Doctor in Education with a colourful and varied academic background. He is currently working at the University of Sussex as a Senior Learning Technologist in the Technology Enhanced Learning team. He has an interest in technology in teaching, curriculum design and assessment and enhancing the student learning experience so that students can make the most of their years in education.

“The wheels firmly on the bus” Reflections on teaching a new module in the ‘new normal’

There is no doubt the 2020/21 academic year has presented educators with unprecedented challenges, and I cannot help feeling a sense of relief at having made it through the Autumn semester without, as one of my colleagues said ‘the wheels having fallen off the bus’.  I want to reflect on the effectiveness of learning and teaching techniques I used in delivering Understanding Law, a module for first year non-law students on the Legal Studies pathway, which I convened for the first time.

Introducing Flipped Learning

Dr Paolo Oprandi and I have explored the flipped learning approach. Many advantages have been found with this approach including more students meeting and exceeding the learning outcomes (Lee & Choi 2019) and more students taking self-regulated learning approaches to learning (van Alten et al 2020). It is a curriculum design where the content that the student is expected to learn is presented before a face-to-face session via a recorded lecture presentation, an academic paper and/or any other medium that students can engage with in their own time. The face-to-face session is used to discuss, analyse and critique the learning material with the tutor present. It is called a flipped curriculum design as it sits in contrast with curricula that present the learning material during the face-to-face teaching session and confine opportunities for students to discuss, analyse and critique the material to homework tasks and reading groups when the tutor is not present. The major worry for academics taking this approach is that students engage with the learning material before a taught session.

Planning the module delivery

With the benefit of having attended various TEL training sessions during the summer, I decided to utilise Panopto to frontload preparation via short, pre-recorded lectures.  To facilitate communication and engagement I planned to use the Padlet tool and Zoom quizzes within live, follow-up lecture sessions.  When planning the module, for around 75 students, I did not know who would be delivering the four two-hour seminars, so I took the decision to run these as synchronous online sessions.   

The key objective of Understanding Law is to give students a solid foundation as to how law is made, interpreted and developed, an overview of human rights law, and the different types of public and private law, alongside a working understanding of the court system of England and Wales.  This equips them with the legal skills necessary for the subsequent modules on the Legal Studies pathway.  The usual form of delivery is via live two-hour lectures and two-hour seminars.  Particularly as this was my first time convening the module, and mindful that arrangements for students starting in September were uncertain, for each topic I decided to record 3 x half-hour content sessions, with a Padlet wall on Canvas for each, which I would then use to build a live dual mode session, complemented by an in-lecture quiz. 

Students’ views

To find out how the students felt about the flipped learning approach and the effectiveness of the Padlet tool, Paolo and I drew up a Qualtrics survey, to ask how this approach compared with other modules without pre-recorded material, how effective they had found Padlet, and their thoughts on the live session quizzes.  The response was low, to date only around 15% of the cohort, and this may be partly due to survey fatigue, and perhaps if I had been able to see more students in person, they would have been more inclined to complete. 

Students’ views on pre-recorded content

Despite the limitations however, the qualitative responses are interesting. On the pre-recorded content, a common response was that this enabled the students to manage their time, work independently outside of the live lecture, pause and take notes, and replay parts which needed clarification. 

In our study, students were able to access the pre-recorded materials ahead of the live session and the corresponding seminars. I had the peace of mind that, whatever the semester might bring, the content was there. Many of the students appreciated the recorded lectures saying,

 “[They gave] context to the required readings”

“I was able to take notes effectively at my own pace, since I was able to pause the recording and re-listen to parts I was unable to understand the first time I heard it.”

The live sessions that followed the students watching the pre-recorded lectures worked well. However, one respondent, whilst stating the benefits of doing the work in their own time, felt that the pre-recorded content ‘lacked a personal feel’. The first of these was online only, while room capacity issues were finalised, and the remainder were dual mode, though in person attendance dropped off towards the end of the module, with the majority of students choosing to access via Zoom. 

Personal reflection and students’ views on Padlet

During the sessions I used Padlet to ask questions of the students’ understanding and students to pose questions back to me. The combination of building in additional content to address questions raised on the Padlet wall, Zoom polls to check understanding, and questions via the Zoom chat function in the session, facilitated engagement and connection, albeit in a different way from usual. 

This was the first time I had used the Padlet tool.  At the beginning of the module, students needed a lot of encouragement to post questions, and it took a little time to direct students away from emailing questions to me, and instead to post on the Padlet wall.  However, once they got used to this, comparing with my experience of other modules, this proved more effective than the Canvas Discussion Board.  Perhaps this is because it is more visual, sitting alongside the topic materials, rather than accessing via another window.  It was also easier to see other students’ questions and to know that these will be covered in the live follow up session, avoiding duplication. The students appreciated my efforts; one stated,

“[Padlet] was a really effective way of bringing up a question and making the seminar more useful”

On the live session quizzes, the responses were largely positive, for example,

 ‘I found it motivating to stay on task and up-to-date on lectures’

‘I was able to check my own understandings of some terms and the system of English Law’. 

One student stated that the questions were simplistic and that there wasn’t an incentive to get the answers correct, but hopefully they found the seminars, which required them to analyse a case on the theme of the legal topic area, more challenging.  I deliberately made the quizzes anonymous, to encourage students to answer without fear of getting the answer wrong and participation in the lectures for the quizzes was always 80%+, which was encouraging. 

The students were asked to rate the effectiveness of the Padlet tool.  Again, acknowledging the low response rate, most responses were ‘highly effective’ or ‘somewhat effective’, with a couple of respondents answering ‘neither effective nor ineffective’.  As I had set up the Padlet walls as anonymous, to encourage students to post questions no matter how minor they might be, it is impossible to say how many students engaged with the Padlet.  The anonymity was appreciated by at least one of the students who mentioned,

[I found it] good for asking questions anonymously”

However, even if a student did not personally use a Padlet wall, it was effective in ensuring they were all able to access the same information, either through the live session, which they could also access afterwards, or by the answers on the Padlet wall itself, as per the Assessment Padlet wall below:

Screenshot for padlet wall with Q&As on assessment.
Assessment Padlet

Final reflections

My concluding thoughts on the learning and teaching experience of the Understanding Law module this semester are that I did not feel I built the same connections with the students as in ‘normal’ times, with solely in person two-hour lectures and the rapport which those bring.  However, despite that, I feel that the overall learning experience was positive, that the students were on the whole engaged, and the feedback from the tutors running the seminars supported this. 

I am looking forward to seeing the AB1 assessments and feel confident that the module has succeeded in getting the students where they need to be for the rest of their pathway programme.  The Padlet tool has been effective in facilitating communication with the students and in giving them the opportunity to play an active role in shaping the live sessions (Fuchs 2014)  I have already designed the Padlet walls for my two core spring law modules, but this time giving the students the facility to edit and respond to posts to help each other, which I hope will facilitate collaboration. Now just to plan the rest…….


van Alten, D.C., Phielix, C., Janssen, J. and Kester, L., 2020. Self-regulated learning support in flipped learning videos enhances learning outcomes. Computers & Education158, p.104000.

Fuchs, B., 2014. The writing is on the wall: using Padlet for whole-class engagement. LOEX Quarterly40(4), p.7.

Lee, J. and Choi, H., 2019. Rethinking the flipped learning pre‐class: Its influence on the success of flipped learning and related factors. British Journal of Educational Technology50(2), pp.934-945.

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Posted in Guest Post, online teaching

Guest Post – How to Create Connection in Challenging Times by Jenni Rose

Two stylised hands reaching to one another, each made up of a word cloud with words such as connectors, unite and work with.
Jenni Rose profile picture

Jenni Rose,
University of Manchester.

Jenni qualified as an Accountant with the ICAEW when working in Audit with KPMG in 2008. The main focus of her teaching is in auditing, financial reporting and financial statement analysis, as well as on the MBA at the University. Much of the strength of her teaching come from developing innovative and creative teaching and learning techniques to increase student engagement includuing using the flipped classroom approach and researching efficient teaching excellence.
Profile page on University of Manchester website.

How to Create Connection in Challenging Times

There is no doubt that it is more difficult than usual to create connection – much of our lives are lived online at the moment and we are unable to be in large groups of strangers or with those we love. You might be feeling anxious about missing out on marking important occasions or unsure how to make create the connections we need as social creatures. 

To frame your reflection on this you can first focus on starting where we are then we using what we do have, and moving into doing what we can. 

To ‘start where you are’ consider what connection means to you – does it mean that deep life long friendship connection or the smaller connections we have with strangers in random situations. What kind of connections do you value? How do you feel after you’ve made a good connection with someone? There is plenty of research on the benefits of connection, 50% increased chance of longevity (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Layton 2010), Stronger gene expression for immunity (Cole 1996), Lower level of anxiety and depression (Seppala 2014), Higher self esteem and greater empathy (Seppala 2014) but what are your own personal benefits of strong connections?

Brene Brown is famous for talking about the power of vulnerability and the sense of connection you feel to someone is often in line with the vulnerability you show to the other person. This takes courage and risks being hurt but can really help with connection.

A final benefit for those who are teaching or learning (or both!) is Cole’s theory from 1996 that learning is a social and cultural process. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping track of deadline and company from someone going through the same process as you, there are also benefits of accelerated learning for students who have strong connections to peers (Gowing 2019).

So practically what can we use to feel connection? First, we need to take a look at what we have control over – we only have control over our behaviour, our reactions and what we focus on. Have a look at this video which talks about the circle of control, from our webinar.

Much of our life at the moment is conducted on Zoom, both professionally and personally but how can we best use this? I’d say the careful use of video is important. In class, speaking as a lecturer, I can only use my teaching skills on those who I can see on video or, to a lesser extent, those who talk which increases motivation and accelerates learning. On the other hand, I find a better connection when I’m speaking 1:1 to someone when it is over the phone as I’m less self conscious about what I look like. Work out feels good for you.

Emma Seppala is a researcher focused on connection who emphasises this. She points out that the benefits of connection are closely linked to your own subjective sense of connection. Therefore you need to work out what gives you the strongest sense of connection.

Here are some ways of “doing what you can” …

And other ideas from my own experience and those who came to the webinar:-

  • Look back over old photos and see which evoke feelings of connection
  • Consider how you feel in a room of strangers (do you feel connected or disconnected)
  • Take a walk without your phone – perhaps this will help you feel connected to nature, even though you are on your own
  • Try talking to random strangers or shop keepers (a famously English way to open up any conversation is to discuss the weather)
  • Smile at random people and smile at yourself in the mirror
  • Find others which may have a common interest
  • Try different ways of using social media eg browsing or what you post and what is important to you
  • Try to rekindle an old friendship where you’ve felt a connection 

To conclude, if connection is important to you then spend some time reflecting on what gives you the most satisfying feeling of connection and seek it out. Start where you are, motivate yourself by visualising the personal benefits for you of increasing connection in your life. Use what you have, technology-wise or technology-free, whichever gives you the best connection given the circumstance and how you feel. Finally, do what you can; pick one small action you will do today to increase the feeling of connection in your life and immediately start to benefit from the positivity you have created.


Dudley-Marling C. (2012) Social Construction of Learning. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.

Gowing, A (2019). Peer-peer relationships: A key factor in enhancing school connectedness and belonging. Educational and Child Psychology 36(2):64-77

Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316

Sepalla, E (2020) 1st November 2020.

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Posted in Guest Post, online communities, online teaching

Three tips for enhancing students’ engagement with feedback

decorative image - two women discussing over a paper.

In my many years of experience as an educator I have spent innumerable hours in writing feedback for students’ work. I always thought this was one of the most important elements of my role as a teacher, where I had the opportunity to provide personalised guidance to students and connect with them on an individual basis.

But the truth is that not all students engage with feedback and perhaps more crucially not all are able to apply the feedback to the next assessment.

Why does this happen? In a recent discussion I had with students, one of them mentioned, and I paraphrase: “You don’t need feedback for exams, if you pass them”. So is it clear to students what is the purpose of feedback?

According to Carless and Boud (2018) feedback is

the process through which learners make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies”.

As such, feedback is not something static but a dynamic process that aims to shape an individual’s performance. So what can we do to help students engage with the feedback and enhance their feedback literacy?

Tip 1: Know the value of the feedback you give, make it explicit and clearly communicate that to the students in advance.

First and foremost, as feedback providers, we need to be able to clearly identify the value of the feedback we give. Can the students apply that feedback to another piece of work, would it help them to improve their performance? And if so, do we know when and where the students will need to apply that feedback?

Or are the things that the students didn’t quite get right in this piece of work, only relevant for that module and for that assessment? And as such, the comment from the student above was actually valid? They passed the exam, and the rest is history now.

If we can ourselves clarify and identify the value of the feedback we give, we can then help the students make those connections as well.

Tip 2: Provide opportunities for giving, receiving and analysing feedback.

But even if we can make this clear to students, how can we ensure that the students can break down the feedback, analyse it, and devise their own strategies for improving their performance?

Here is where developing students’ feedback literacy comes into play. Feedback literacy has been seen as “the understandings, capacities and dispositions needed” (Carless and Boud 2018) in order to be able to respond to feedback. We need to guide students in the process of understanding the feedback, as well enabling them to internalise the feedback to become self-regulated learners (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

Several strategies are available to achieve this.

Firstly, by clearly defining the way that students’ work is assessed, through discussion and analysis of marking criteria early on.

Secondly, by offering opportunities to students to compare their work with the work of others (for instance through exemplars, or peer marking activities). By applying the marking criteria themselves, students will be able to identify what areas they need to work on and how to improve their own work.

Finally, by enabling dialogue and discussions (among peers or between students-staff), we can share examples of strategies on how to apply feedback and what actions need to be taken for further improvement.

If you have used any of these strategies in your teaching, feel free to share your experience in the comments.

Tip 3: Provide a supportive well-planned learning environment

Although  there are strategies to support students to develop their feedback literacy skills, Gravett (2020) argues that feedback literacy is better “conceptualised as a complex breadth of dynamic, nuanced, situated feedback literacies” through a sociomaterial lens, where factors such as space, time and power-relations come into play. These factors will vary significantly among students, especially when considering how diverse and heterogenous the student population is.

It is important, therefore, that faculty also aims to provide a supportive and well-planned learning environment that takes into consideration the medium, the space and the time that feedback is given and analysed by the students, as well as who is providing the feedback. Establishing a supportive, caring relationship with students is important to allow students to be receptive to feedback and not scared of it.

What strategies could we use for that? What are the limitations? Add your thoughts in the comments.

In summary, what we need  to remember as feedback providers is that our students will be receiving feedback in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources, but for them to engage with the feedback they will need to identify its value, be able to decipher it and be in the right environment to engage with it. We may not be able to address all of these factors directly, but considering them when planning our teaching may help us navigate through the complexities of students’ engagement with feedback.


Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43:8, 1315-1325, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

Gravett, K. (2020) Feedback literacies as sociomaterial practice, Critical Studies in Education, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2020.1747099

Nicol, D.J., and Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31:2, 199-218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090

Disclaimer: This is an opinion-based post and is not representative of views held by the University of Sussex.  

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Introduction to the University of Sussex Scholarship Framework

Welcome to the DARE to Transform Blog.

The blog is one of the University’s outlets for sharing scholarship of teaching and learning. It forms part of the activities of the Development, Advancement and Recognition in Education (DARE) to Transform Network which was established in 2019 to serve as a scholarship and pedagogical research incubator, through the establishment of a community of practice and range of supporting initiatives to advance teaching, learning and assessment and encourage educational experimentation and enquiry.

Boyer’s groundbreaking work, recognising the different forms of scholarship within the academy and how they intersect (Boyer, 1990) led to the the development of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as a discipline in its own right. Scholarship should also be viewed as a proactive concept, such that, knowledge is actively and continually developed, applied and improved, and collaboratively shared with the wider community. This increasing focus on SoTL has led to the development of Education and Scholarship career frameworks within Higher Education including the University of Sussex. The framework for scholarship that Sussex has adopted evolves as colleagues progress through different career levels, moving from a focus on developing the academic’s own knowledge and practice to influencing and leading the field. The Sussex model of scholarship builds on the DART model (Kern et al., 2015), adding mentoring and leadership into the development process. This approach recognises that the curriculum, systems of assessment, student experience initiatives, widening participation activities and community engagement endeavours represent key avenues for both scholarship and pedagogic research.  Social media channels, digital repositories, online journals and other digital platforms provide multiple mechanisms for disseminating outcomes of scholarly activities into society, culture, professional networks, research communities and the wider HE context.

DARE to Transform comprises a number of different streams of activity to support colleagues in developing their scholarship, including a mentoring scheme, invited seminars, case studies featuring scholarship stories and internal and external scholarship opportunities.

The DARE to Transform blog has been established as an open, online publishing outlet for both early career and experienced colleagues across the University to share and disseminate scholarly outputs.  These may address a range of thematic areas and take the form of reflective posts, opinion pieces, educational resources or initial findings from action research.  Should you wish to write for this blog or get involved in any the activities associated with DARE to Transform please email

You can find further information relating to the blog scope and style guidance here.

DARE is coordinated by Dr Susan Smith (Business School) and Dr David Walker (Student Experience) with support from colleagues across the institution.


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.

Kern, B., Mettetal, G., Dixson, M., & Morgan, R. K. (2015). The role of SoTL in the academy: Upon the 25th anniversary of Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1-14.

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