Media, Arts and Humanities Sustainability Educator Toolkit


Algae bloom, USA. Image by Peter Essick. Climate Visuals Project
A bird’s eye view of a body of water, completely clogged with green algae. A small boat cuts a wake through the algal bloom.

By Jo Lindsay Walton, Research Fellow in Arts, Climate and Technology in the Sussex Humanities Lab

The MAH Sustainability Educator Toolkit is a resource to enrich teaching with themes such as planetary and social boundaries, the Sustainable Development Goals, climate justice, ecocentrism (especially in law and policy), Indigenous knowledges, and degrowth. As described in the Ethical Educators plan, a pillar of Sussex’s sustainability strategy:

“Universities are uniquely placed to help shape – and be shaped by – the thinking of younger generations, organisational cultures and even geopolitical ideologies. For this reason, fully embedding the principles of sustainability within our curriculum is a practical way of helping to create a better future.”

We pulled together the Toolkit mostly in the summer of 2022. The Toolkit is filled with reading lists and signposts, quotations to discuss in class or to build into teaching materials, some explainers of key topics, some teaching ideas we’ve framed as ‘Activity Seeds’, and a handful of case studies. It focuses on environmental sustainability, although sustainability has other dimensions too. If you’d like to contribute to the Toolkit, or if you have feedback on it, we’d love to hear from you.

Following early conversations with colleagues, we were keen to make something quickly. In addressing climate crises and biodiversity loss in the early-to-mid 2020s, every year, every month counts. Environmental emergency isn’t something for ‘the next generation’; it is unfolding all around us. But the rhythms of academic life, from grant writing to curriculum development, aren’t always best suited to acting fast. So we hoped to create something that was good enough for now, and might spark ideas and enthusiasm for even bigger and better things soon. The HE sector is rising to meet environmental emergency with a range of ambitious timelines: fulfilling these promises means embracing improvisation and experiment.

Sustainability and interdisciplinarity go hand-in-hand. Quite early on, we also realised we wanted to focus on embedding sustainability within existing media, arts and humanities curricula. Our scoping research (led by Adaora) revealed many great introductory resources about sustainability. So what was the gap we identified? There seemed to be few resources that were designed to be combined with existing methods, texts, lessons plans, learning outcomes. We imagined ourselves thinking, “OK, I am teaching such-and-such next week, and I want to include sustainability angles. How do I do that?” We looked for resonances between sustainability science and policy and areas like the environmental humanities, ecopoetics, new materialism, and postcolonial and postdevelopment studies. As Alisa Lebow (Film Studies) points out in her case study, “We often explore films in which the environment is very prominent. But we can also read any film (or novel, or photograph, or object) in an ecocritical manner.”

We were also interested in activities and formats. Many teaching resources we discovered were either very content-focused, or contained activities more suitable for primary or secondary schools. To be honest, compared to our early aspirations, we have drifted a lot toward content, and away from activities and formats. The dream of perfectly customisable “activities I can drop into my 9am seminar tomorrow” hasn’t materialised. But hopefully the Activities Seeds and case studies are steps in the right direction.

Similar to decolonising the curriculum, ‘sustainabilising’ the curriculum may also mean going against the grain of subtle systemic power. Educators are under all kinds of pressures, and sometimes sustainability can feel like a box-ticking exercise, disconnected from transformative action or radical system change. The synergy between theory and action can be elusive. Especially when words like ‘sustainable’ are proudly plastered across the websites of the worst polluters and perpetrators of economic and ecological injustice. Maybe the next big iteration of the Toolkit should include a chapter on ‘Greenwashing’? Maybe you’d like to help to create it? There are so many different things to think about when you’re planning teaching, and one thing that is easy to let slide is the ecological foundation of all the others. We see embedding sustainability as potentially hard work, but of a creative and illuminating kind: something generative, a source of inspiration and even energy.

Links:

MAH Sustainability Educator Toolkit

Additional resources

Using the UK Professional Standards Framework (PSF) to ensure good practice and excellent student experience. This teaching practice outlined in this blog post is informed by the highlighted areas:

Areas of activity

• A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study

• A2 Teach and/or support learning

• A3 Assess and give feedback to learners

• A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance

• A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

Core knowledge

• K1 The subject material

• K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme

• K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)

• K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies

• K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching

• K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

Professional values

• V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities

• V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners

• V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development

• V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice

Posted in Uncategorised

Sussex Writes and Social Justice: Learning Beyond the Classroom

Image: Sussex Writes Website

By Emma Newport, Senior Lecturer in English Literature

In 2017, I launched a new creative writing initiative, Sussex Writes, which was developed in conjunction with Mark Fairbanks and piloted at Beacon Academy. We wanted to connect our students at university with young people in local schools to ignite, or reignite, a love of creative writing. Since then, we have expanded into a global writing initiative, working in related areas of student wellbeing, youth opportunities, and post-Covid recovery, through the Arts and Humanities.

Context

We identified that:

  1.  GCSE students struggle with exam-condition creative writing (introduced for the first time in summer 2016 to replace the old model of creative writing coursework at GCSE).
  2. The creative writing assessment is worth up to 40% of the overall GCSE in English, with max. 35 minutes to produce:
    •  a fully-realised piece of writing;
    • with a plot (but not too much);
    • with characterisation (but not too many characters);
    • and with examples of figurative language that is neither too clichéd nor too wildly original.

The impact of this kind of assessed creative writing has resulted in an emphasis on standardised and quantifiable outputs, resulting in “inflated and unconvincing” stories being rewarded most highly and teachers necessarily seeking a formula to help their students produce writing in the limited time of the exam (Barrs, 2019).

Added to this, Covid has further widened the gap in attainment in schools, with large gaps in students’ teaching, with an increased burden on covering content and little time dedicated to developing skills such as essay and creative writing. Teachers signing up to Sussex Writes have reported that there has been a decline in student confidence, self-direction and autonomy in their learning.

One of the consequences of learning via a screen has been a – largely accidental – rise in passive learning: watching video recordings, completing closed tasks, following a PowerPoint. Passive learning is associated with decreased enjoyment in learning and thus impacts engagement in education (Gorard & Huat See, 2010). In homes with limited computer or internet, access to all the interactive functionality of Zoom (video, breakout rooms) is not always possible, and digital inequality increased the attainment gap. Digital inequalities are most often related to socioeconomic status, gender and ethnicity; as a result, this indicates that any effort to increase digital equality among young people must struggle against well-established structural divides (Samuelsson & Olsson, 2014).

Partner schools have reported three key performance areas have been affected:

  1. Ability to function in a classroom (to concentrate, self-start, stay on task, work with others, etc.)
  2. Literacy – in schools where 10% of year 7 intake entered with a year 4/5 reading age, this has jumped to 20-25% (2019 versus 2021)
  3. Engagement – pupils are struggling with mental health and present with decreasing love of learning

The primary aim of Sussex Writes is to focus on closing the attainment gap that has widened due to the pandemic, although Sussex Writes also works with a host of projects beyond formal education, including charities and organisations like Girl Guides and AllSorts. The programme is underpinned by ideas of social justice: creating opportunities for students who may not have had many to develop their employability skills, while supporting people in the community who may also have had limited opportunities and whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic. 

What we did

The Sussex Writes programme connects undergraduates and postgraduates in MAH with the local and global community via student-led creative writing workshops and literacy programmes. We don’t just limit ourselves to working with schools: our team runs events with charities, youth programmes, and vulnerable groups in Brighton and around the world. The success of the programme derives from the full partnership that we share between faculty and students, with students have responsibility for the following:

  1. Chairing weekly meetings + setting agenda
  2. Designing English support activities for small and large group teaching
  3. Delivering creative activities to groups online and in person
  4. Copywriting and editing our blog
  5. Managing our website
  6. Managing our social and digital media + competitions

Sussex Writes members also become involved in generating leads for new opportunities with partner organisations including schools, youth groups and other outreach organisations, and in running peer-to-peer workshops where Sussex Writes team members exchange tools and strategies for best practice, based on their experiences.

There is enormous value in students co-creating programmes with faculty that is not just focused on academic outputs and contributing to the final degree award, as it changes the students’ relationship with learning: they enhance and deploy their knowledge and skills for their intrinsic and social value, rather than perceiving their value as a grade to be banked towards their degree (Freire, 1968; 1974).

Where it has led

Sussex Writes has now developed into a multiplatform, multifaceted programme, with its own website , blog, Facebook page, and social media. Our student team has worked with hundreds of young people in twenty-two different countries. Four of our student team have gone onto PhDs and lectureships.  The research for Lockdown Live resulted in a grant with the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme, in partnership with The Youth Café, a pan-African youth advocacy organisation.

The future of Sussex Writes lies in building on the ways in which we centre social justice and social responsibility in the university and beyond. I see the programme as a model for a scholarship pathway that can offer equivalent opportunities to the Junior Research Award and identify, fund and grow excellence amongst our students at Sussex in partnership with faculty.


Using the UK Professional Standards Framework (PSF) to ensure good practice and excellent student experience. This teaching practice outlined in this blog post is informed by the highlighted areas:

Areas of activity

  • A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  • A2 Teach and/or support learning
  • A3 Assess and give feedback to learners
  • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

Core knowledge

  • K1 The subject material 
  • K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  • K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  • K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  • K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

Professional values

  • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice’
Posted in Uncategorised

Post-Pandemic Blended Learning: Embodied and Agentic Potential

A mobile phone is held in two hands. On  the screen is an augmented view of a street with pop up icons of different venues, 'coffee shop', 'restaurant', 'watch shop'.
Image from zapp2photo – stock.adobe.com – Free for non-commercial use.

By Victoria Grace Walden, Senior Lecturer, Director of Learning Enhancement

Profile photo of Victoria Grace Walden - blue hair and glasses against a matching blue background.

So often online learning is discussed as a ‘deficit’ model (Darabi et al 2010, 216). It is compared to in-person, campus teaching, which it can never be identical too, therefore it is perceived as lesser. Critical digital pedagogues, Maha Bali and Bard Meier (2014), however, argue that presumptions that online learning should look like in-person learning are informed by three (incorrect) assumptions:

  1. ‘that text is less personal’ [than audio-visual]
  2. ‘that immediacy is inherently more valuable’ [than asynchronous]
  3. ‘and that approximating face-to-face is beneficial’.

They celebrate asynchronous learning for the ways it promotes ‘deeper reflection’, during which powerful learning is happening; it is just learning that the instructor cannot see or monitor.

In August 2021, I had the pleasure of attending the Digital Pedagogy Lab , founded by Sean Michael Morris with threads by a variety of contributors, including Bali. Morris, Bali and colleagues run the Hybrid Pedagogy open journal, which focuses on Critical Digital Pedagogy – heavily influenced by bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Henry Giroux. Essentially, the work of the journal emphasises the humanness at the centre of (digital) learning.

Media Education Theorist, Julian McDougall, argues ‘that online learning spaces can be productive “third spaces” if they are charged with creative, productive possibilities, combined with an ethnographic turn in curriculum design’ (2021, 2). He argues against the idea of online learning spaces providing ‘supplementary’ materials to the physical classroom (2021, 3). Instead, following thinkers like Bali, he suggests a need to think about how students’ personal learning journeys might take shape across, through, and combining different spaces.

Another influence on McDougall’s work is that of Arndt et al. (2020), who argue that online higher education, just as with offline, needs to be understood as relational, which emphasises the ethics embedded in learning design. In this sense, notions of student ‘engagement’ and ‘presence’ refer to how their ‘relational energy’ is generated through their personal learning journey (McDougall 2021, 25).

As we transitioned back to on-campus teaching as the dominant form of engagement with students, I wanted to think about what I could take form my experiences of remote, online teaching during the pandemic to inform an inclusive, blended approach going forward. I was conscious that not all of our students would be able to be on campus for the entire term – how could I created a learning experience that was as accessible as possible to all students?

What I did

Design your own blended learning journey

Acknowledging that each student will create their own personal journey through the module, I decided to design each week with a ‘menu’ of learning options (some online and collaborative; some online and solo; some offline and solo; some on campus together). Each week was divided into five sections:

Challenge Yourself to Learn Something New

  • Complete the readings.
  • Engage in asynchronous reading discussions using Talis Elevate through questions I tagged to certain places in the readings or download the readings and look at them independently.
  • Attend the seminar, lecture and workshop this week.

Check your Learning

  • Review or contribute to the weekly glossary.
  • Test your knowledge of terminology using games on Study Stack

Practice

  • Complete the weekly thematic task, such as log your engagements with news (Week 1). This gave space for quiet, offline, solo work.

Engage with your Learning Community

  • Discuss readings on Talis Elevate.
  • Participate in discussion forms.
  • Add questions or your own case studies in advance to each seminar group’s Padlet.
  • Meet with your study group online or offline to discuss your practice task(s).
A screenshot from Talis Elevate. On the left text has been highlighted.

On the right a tutor comment relating to this text is followed by a student comment.
Example of discussions with students on Talis Elevate.

Reflect on your Learning

  • Reflection questions and tasks to guide students to creating and maintaining goals, such as creating their own study schedule to project manage their own learning.

In structuring support for students’ personal learning journey, I wanted to ensure that tasks were not divided into in-person or offline tasks, and online learning. I also wanted to avoid the idea that online learning is supplementary to offline. The use of headings designed to encourage challenge, assessment, practice, community, and reflection were the driving forces under which a range of online and offline activities were included.


Using the UK Professional Standards Framework (PSF) to ensure good practice and excellent student experience. This teaching practice outlined in this blog post is informed by the highlighted areas:

Areas of activity

  • A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  • A2 Teach and/or support learning
  • A3 Assess and give feedback to learners
  • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

Core knowledge

  • K1 The subject material  
  • K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  • K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  • K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  • K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

Professional values

  • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice
Posted in Uncategorised

Communicating Visually

By John Walker, Lecturer in British Sign Language

I strongly recommend watching the video to see the significance of visual communication illustrated. If the subtitles do not appear immediately, please hover your mouse over the bottom of the video screen and click on ‘CC’. For those with specific accessibility needs, a transcript is also available here.


Using the UK Professional Standards Framework (PSF) to ensure good practice and excellent student experience. This teaching practice outlined in this blog post is informed by the highlighted areas:

Areas of activity

  • A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  • A2 Teach and/or support learning
  • A3 Assess and give feedback to learners
  • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

Core knowledge

  • K1 The subject material 
  • K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  • K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  • K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  • K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

Professional values

  • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice’
Posted in Uncategorised

Critical Embodied Pedagogy

Action shot: person centred has a black back on their head, they are circled by others in movement positions.
Image: ‘Caretaking’ with permission from the archive of Ali Hodge.

By Lisa Peck, Senior Lecturer in Theatre Practice.

Lisa Peck wearing large sunglasses looks diagonally up into a slightly cloudy sky.

The exercise ‘Caretaking’, developed by the late Ali Hodge, involves a group working together to support one central player. In an empty studio this person wears a veil over their head to mask the dominant facial communication. They move freely around the space, changing direction, tempo and rhythm and launching themselves forwards, backwards, sideways, giving up their weight and balance to be ‘caught’ or supported by the others who are their caretakers. The group have to be fully present to each other moment to moment, working with deep listening, with eyes and ears, responding and adapting together to the needs of the individual through touch and weight transference. It is an exercise that tests and develops many techniques – spontaneity, impulse, agility, rhythm, balance, weight and release. At the same time it taps into another layer of learning – personal/social knowledges, attitudinal qualities or transferable skills that improve our ability to be together in the world; how to be in a constant state of becoming; how to live with uncertainty together. To my mind, offering students this learning is more important than technique. Caretaking is an example of embodied learning.

In many ways, teaching embodied critical pedagogy in the academy operates as a type of activism. It resists and dismantles the Cartesian dualism that maintains that certain types of knowing have greater currency. My position is that knowledge is a felt sense. We feel something to be right or wrong through our body.  Knowing something comes to matter when it changes your choices, your actions, your movement. That’s when teaching has the potential to, as Michel Foucault says, ‘practice freedom’ (1997). In my pedagogy I work from the phenomenological position of the body-mind, (Merleau Ponty, 2002) recognising that our bodies think, and we need to learn to listen more deeply and see more clearly. Alva Noë explains

We spend all our lives embodied, environmentally situated with others …dynamically coupled with the world

(2009, 181)

In performance teaching we attune our students to this reciprocal encounter, our relationality to time, space, place, each other, human and non-human objects. Importantly, this taps into left brain and right brain thinking, remembering that we are embodied and em-brained. From a neurological perspective, the left hemisphere sees things as abstracted, broken in parts, its main concern is for utility; the right hemisphere perceives things as whole, in their context, with an affinity for openness and connection (Iain McGilchrist, 2010). This side of the brain enables empathy and emotional understanding.

Returning to our exercise, in Caretaking, students are working with both sides of the brain simultaneously to facilitate instinctive responses. Between the two contesting responses space is made for something else to come into being. I see this ‘something’ as powerfully productive and deeply political, what Hannah Arendt might call ‘plurality’, where each individual is unique in their difference and yet simultaneously in collaboration (2000). I think this is what Roland Barthes is pointing to in How to Live Together when he identifies ‘idiorhythmy’ as an essential material for human progress (2013,6).

Drawing on Eve Sedgewick’s thinking beside as an alternative to paradigms of thinking beyond (2003,8), I teach techniques such as: being grounded, being ready, polyphonic attention, and working with impulse, tempo, repetition, proximity, duration, kinesthetic awareness, and reflection. These techniques are taught beside qualities and attitudes such as: how to listen, to see, to empathise, to collaborate, to be with uncertainty, to disagree, to work with spontaneity, instinct, impulse, resonance and resilience, to be confident in not knowing, and to be reflexive and reflective.  As I list these knowledges it strikes me that, whilst I associate these with practice, these qualities are equally necessary for effective critical thinking, research and writing. My frustration is that assessment criteria all too often fails to acknowledge and reward this learning which, I concede, is tricky to do; how do you assess empathy? Nevertheless, these feel like conversations we should be having.

It’s taken me time to be clear about what I’m teaching and why I’m teaching it. How I teach is an ongoing investigation. Certain ways of learning dominate performance – I facilitate students to learn through play and through failure – which needs to be held carefully as individuals experience these ways of coming to learn differently. My feminist pedagogy works from an affirmative politics, which I have termed via positiva (Peck, 2021);this requires you to enable the possibility of the student becoming an autodidact whilst (vitally) supporting them generously, finding the pleasure whenever possible in the learning exchange and working from what Rosi Braidotti terms

‘the positivity of difference’

(1994. 161).

It’s in those spaces between – whether face to face or virtual that the most exciting and transformative learning can emerge.

I’m committed to an ongoing study of how these spaces between are structured in our teaching, through our language (verbal and non-verbal), and the empathy/emotional resonance that this produces. My current research is concerned with the ways we attempt to practice freedoms in our teaching – not so much what we teach, but how – the strategies and structures we work with and the dispositional qualities that are produced.

Somewhere in all of this I know, in my felt sense, that love is a necessary material.


Using the UK Professional Standards Framework (PSF) to ensure good practice and excellent student experience. This teaching practice outlined in this blog post is informed by the highlighted areas:

Areas of activity

  • A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  • A2 Teach and/or support learning
  • A3 Assess and give feedback to learners
  • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

Core knowledge

  • K1 The subject material 
  • K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  • K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  • K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  • K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

Professional values

  • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice
Posted in Uncategorised

Using Dialogic Teaching, or ‘Thinking Together’

Two sheeps chatting
Image from Pixabay – Free for commercial use. No attribution required

By Sue Robbins, Senior Lecturer SCLS, Director of CPD

Profile photo of blog post author Sue Robbins. She looks off camera to the right, standing on front of the sea.

Evidence from educational psychology tells us that talking about our learning helps us process it (Resnick, et al. 2017). I run a daily drop-in service to support Academic Development (a core module of the Central Foundation Years) that draws on dialogic theory, an approach and a professional outlook which suggests that ‘we learn not so much by replacing wrong ideas with right ideas, but more often by augmenting existing perspectives with new perspectives which enable us to see further or better or just differently’ (Wegerif 2016). The ‘Thinking Together’ pedagogy developed by Alexander, Mercer & Dawes in the early 1990s harnesses the power of talk to stimulate and extend thinking and advance learning and understanding. It ‘requires us to rethink not just the techniques we use but also the classroom relationships we foster, the balance of power between teacher and taught and the way we conceive of knowledge’ (Alexander, 2010).

Students on the Academic Development module are engaged in a small research project that culminates in a discursive essay. Many attend the drop-in sessions because of ‘the struggle involved in writing at the intellectual and emotional levels, as well as the struggle for recognition, “voice” and legitimacy.’ (Burke, 2008). Aware that teachers’ voices tend to have authority within dialogic spaces I used Lizzio’s 5 Senses of Success framework (2006) to develop a methodology for the drop-in sessions that would allow me to use that authority to open up possibilities for learners to speak.

Lizzio’s framework grew out of research which found there are consistent needs and concerns that students experience as they commence university, outlined in the graphic.

Adapted from Griffith University: First Year Experience Project, Lizzio, 2006

The daily drop-in sessions form part of a proactive approach to supporting students based on an expanded notion of good teaching beyond classroom pedagogy that links teaching and learning to student support as well as fostering social inclusion. The sessions run throughout the year and can be attended on a voluntary basis as often as a student elects. They are not conceived of as remedial, or targeted at students with a Widening Participation background, but are positioned as a service for all students – what Kift et al. (2009) call an ‘everybody’s business’ approach to transition pedagogy. The underlying assumptions are that ‘learning in higher education is a complex social and cognitive process of discovering and mastering… the knowledge-making rules and practices, values and roles that characterise the disciplinary cultures of the various fields of study’ (Warren 2002), and that all students benefit from 1:1 conversations about the process of adaptation required as they transition into HE.

Students who drop in are invited to talk about where they are in the research/writing process and how they are experiencing it and we discuss how they might proceed. We stay rooted in their experiences and explore what may be at stake for them in this specific context (Lillis & Scott 2007). No registers are kept so that no student feels that asking for help will in some way count against them. This video introduction (on the students’ Canvas site) summarises the approach.

The familiar problem of students who would likely benefit from support often not accessing it has been addressed to an extent by the broad range of Central Foundation Years stakeholders who regularly incorporate mention of the service into their own conversations with students – the Academic Development tutors refer students, as do Academic Advisers, the Academic Success Advisers, the DTL and DoSE and the Professional Services team. Students often turn up following a progress committee meeting and in conversation we are often able to identify barriers to progress and discuss ways to overcome them.

Working in this way allows for a different approach to feedback that focusses on what students do, and how they process and act on feedback, rather than what we do. The impact of the drop-in sessions is routinely mentioned positively in Module Evaluation Questionnaires and by the student reps, and students have nominated them for a teaching award in each of the last 3 years. They continued to be well attended through the emergency pivot online (Wegerif on why dialogic teaching is still relevant in the digital age). The following comments demonstrate the way students experience dialogue and their ability to absorb and learn from feedback:

Sue gave me detailed feedback on what I wanted from her, and we were able to have an actual conversation about it which really helped me as I think it allowed me to open up more about the problems I was having.

Sue gave me the start I needed to think for myself in terms of the [essay] question. She asked me the right questions that lead me onto the right path.

I honestly was considering dropping in just to talk because she makes you think and she’s really nice. It was probably the only time I felt like I was actually in uni/like I actually met a tutor.

You can see more responses here from the 2020/2021 cohort (though only 13 respondents… it is very difficult to persuade students to give feedback). Do get in touch or leave a comment below if you’d like to discuss.


Using the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) to ensure good practice and excellent student experience. The teaching practice outlined in this blog post is informed by the areas in italics:

Areas of activity

  • A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  • A2 Teach and/or support learning
  • A3 Assess and give feedback to learners
  • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

Core knowledge

  • K1 The subject material  
  • K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  • K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  • K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  • K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching

Professional values

  • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice
Posted in Uncategorised