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.
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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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Posted in Assessment and Feedback

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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