Teacher? Or what..?


based on Photo by Akson on Unsplash

I have an activity in a session I run on active learning where I ask ‘what is the role of the teacher in the active classroom?’ and ask people to come up with better suggestions than ‘teacher’ to describe the role. Giving the role a name helps us to focus on the range of roles performed by the teacher or lecturer.
Barrett and Moore (2001) have a good list in their book of problem-based learning. But we always add to it. So, the first few come from them, and then the rest are other ideas that participants (I say participants, but do I mean students, or learners, or..?!) have generated:

  • Facilitator – facilitates learning – not provider of content
  • Observer – observes and listens, ready to intervene
  • Interrogator – asks probing, challenging questions
  • Quality controller – sets expectations of students to evidence their thinking
  • Connector – sets expectations of students to apply theory to practice
  • Orchestrator – ensures individuals contribute through independent study and group-based learning
  • Co-ordinator – ensures students reflect on and in their learning
  • Reviewer  – facilitates the review of learning episodes through summary discussion

Here are other suggestions:

  • agitator
  • enquirer
  • supporter
  • enabler
  • energiser
  • inspirer
  • sharer
  • nurturer
  • negotiator
  • empowerer
  • space creator
  • acknowledger
  • winkler, teaser-outer
  • innovator
  • trier
  • guide
  • medler in the middle
  • carer
  • provocateur
  • mentor
  • tutor
  • animateur
  • activator
  • scaffolder
  • guardian
  • host

Obviously, most of these suggestions are derived from verbs, nevertheless they do provide an indication of the agility needed by the active learning… teacher!


Barrett, T. & Moore, S., eds. (2011). New approaches to problem-based learning: revitalising your practice in higher education. London & New York: Routledge.

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Energy and active learning Part 2


Photo by Husna Miskandar on Unsplash

In the previous post, I discussed the emotional energy involved in teaching in an active learning paradigm. Here, I will reflect on physical exertion entailed in teaching this way.

Clearly, a lot of this comes down to the type of activity we are talking about. This also allows us to reflect on strategies we might deploy for pacing ourselves to manage our personal energies and those of our students.

Talk the talk

The first strategy I will reflect on, then, is the conversational approach I use a lot. This essentially involves positing a good question, dilemma, conundrum or situation and asking the participants to respond by sharing their knowledge, experiences or opinion. For example, this may be presented as a think, pair, share activity. I often think of this teaching role as being similar to that of the daytime television host whose job it is to stir up an audience by seeking opinion and managing a degree of turmoil! Through conversation, the aim is to think critically together and to arrive at positions of consensus or difference, but at least clarity, as a precursor to self- or group-directed learning. We could stay with the psychological dimension of this performance type role, but I want to talk about the physicality of the role.

Teaching could stay in the defensive position that involves occupying the front of the classroom. However, in my view, one of the points of taking an active learning approach is to be collaborative and make use of the collective energy and wisdom. It seems disingenuous to the stated intention of wanting to show respect for the participants as equal contributors, therefore; active learning is essentially a collaborative idea of peer learning in which participants work through thinking together in a process of knowledge co-construction. Therefore, whatever the size of the space, the active learning teacher must be positioned in and amongst the other participants. This is not simply to be close enough to have a respectful exchange, it is also symbolic of the democratisation of the active classroom. One is physically representing the notion of parity and inclusion as far as is possible.

Walk the talk

At the same time, you don’t want to linger in any one space, physically or in terms of your eye contact. Further, there is something about the teacher’s movement as representing intentionality, commitment and an expectation of exertion within the learning space; modelling and normalising interaction.

As an aside, there is an important point here for learning space design in that more floor space is needed in active classrooms for several reasons, but importantly to allow the facilitator’s easy movement around and through the room.

Physically, then, we have a picture of the teacher as being in a state of constant flux ready to move from one group to another whilst turning to establish contact with other groups checking their engagement and reticence for picking up the batten.


There is something to note here about where exactly the academic should stand as the authority figure in the room – the person with the ultimate responsibility for establishing action and keeping students on task. Being alert to one’s proximity to students is important as the teacher neither wants to intimidate them or appear to be removed from what they are saying. The host’s movement can help to manage the perception of presence.

I have discussed body language before in this blog and it is relevant to mention it again here. Part of the duty of the teacher in the space is to communicate interest and respect, and to set and model expectations for engagement. I find this need to model physical presence quite difficult and I can become hyperaware of my posture and what I am doing with my hands. Specifically, I am as nervous as the next person and I am aware that I hold my chin and cover my mouth and odd things like that. Training that I have been on suggests that standing upright with your arms by your side and your legs slightly apart is generally the default position you should adopt if you are to inspire confidence and demonstrate your openness. That’s quite difficult and takes practice. My previous post on this noted there are differences in gender preference when it comes to taking an open stance or not. Apparently, women prefer to face the person with whom they are talking, while men prefer to be less confrontational and prefer situations in which they stand in a less direct way.  I don’t know about that and I hate to generalise, but the point here is that the host or facilitator may do well to consider their posture and body language and their effect on others.

Get up, stand up!

Beyond the conversational methods, then, there are those teaching strategies in which activity involves students getting out of their chairs and involved in something more physical and perhaps less cerebral. There are so many methods here, but consider writing at whiteboards and role-play as two examples. It is at this point where energy in the classroom shows itself as students demonstrate their excitement or reticence and begin to tackle the activity they have been given.

My co-teacher from earlier this week made an important point. She said one sign of an excellent teacher is their ability to remove themselves for a while to let the activity begin. We noted how difficult this can be in reality when, in teaching mode, we feel like there is always something else worthwhile to be said. I’ve always got something to add – but sometimes you’ve just got to shut up and stand back. Removing oneself from the action and becoming the observer and supporter in the room is usually what is needed.

In this mode of student activity, the teacher and the students are on their feet and it always surprises me how tiring this can be. The physical and psychological effort together can be taxing. I think this is compounded by the levels of concentration needed in an environment when it gets quite noisy. However, it’s always interesting to look at your step counter after you have facilitated such an active session! You can walk miles wearing out the carpet. On the one hand, it really helps with your fitness, but on the other, you don’t get the fresh air that would also help your well-being!

More on energy

There are many related dimensions to thinking about energy in the active classroom. I think a post on student energy would be valuable, for example. And perhaps a post on inclusivity and the implicit, or explicit, expectations present in an active learning paradigm – who might we be excluding? Then, I think I need to look at pacing strategies.

My intention now is to have a look around and see if I can find any useful resources on managing energy as an active learning teacher. Please do let me know if you are aware of anything or if you have your own thoughts on this.

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Energy and active learning Part 1


Photo by Federico Beccari on Unsplash

One of the things I am trying to draw some conclusions on is what is involved in making a transition to active learning pedagogy and what that actually means for the academic. I will split this post into several parts. Here’s part 1.

I am writing this having spent two full-on days delivering active learning sessions to a group of 15 people. So it is with that in mind, that I am reflecting. It reminds me of what is involved in preparing and orchestrating active provision. It is salient, therefore, for me to look at a shift in my energy usage and the demands I put on the group. And I do mean energy rather than just effort.

Where is the active learning practitioner’s energy used?

First, let’s just note that making any transition requires mental and physical energy – change itself involves a mental shift of re-orientating oneself and establishing new ways of thinking and doing. A change can spark emotions of exhilaration or resistance, but whatever the reactions, change induces what can be a psychological rollercoaster and is undoubtedly challenging. Practical changes coupled with this shift in teaching paradigm point us towards the more obvious concern: redeveloping materials so they are fit for purpose. All of those lectures once delivered and re-used now need to be reconsidered and redeveloped. I think perhaps the energy dimension to this work is often overestimated because it is an unfamiliar process and the fist challenge is to estimate the scale of what it will entail. Equally, reorganising learning spaces, timetable and online presence. But we’ll come back to these transition-specific challenges at another time.

In this post, I want to focus more on the expenditure of teaching energy and the need for the teacher and their students to recover when using active learning pedagogies.

Beyond transition, material preparation is nevertheless part of what needs to be considered in the routine of teaching for active learning. I think an active learning facilitator must continually and actively review what works and, significantly, what will work with a specific group of people given their context on a specific day. This week I led several sessions, almost back-to-back. For each one, I began by asking, “What have I done before and will it fit?” The ‘it’ comes down to that mix of strategy, content and contextualisation. The implications of this are that, while the lecturer may largely develop and come to rely upon the slide pack and some key readings, for example, it is different for the active learning facilitator because the fundamental design challenge involves the intention to shift the attention of the class from that single point of focus at the front of the room, as far as is possible.

Yes, there are some key and favourite activities the academic will deploy, but I think the ability to design and evaluate sessions and then rework them is something that requires the teacher’s continual critical attention, right through to reflecting on how well things worked and registering the implications for future practice. Active learning, I contest, is first and foremost concerned with promoting learner curiosity, and stimulating and generally engaging students individually and collectively in their learning. In other words, the primary focus is not one of delivering knowledge, but of engaging students with it. Of course, this constant monitoring and evaluation of the situation will be draining and already it is obvious the academic’s resilience and skills in pacing themselves and others is needed.

This is about the active learning academic being agile. Agility is not just a seat of the pants or tips of the toes or edge of the seat skill, it is about being prepared and up-to-date, fluent and able to confidently interject and reorientate proceedings – after all, active learning is typically authentic. Maintaining one’s currency and being up-to-date is part of this, and I would suggest you need to be on top of the literature and on top of the news as the real-world application of knowledge and the role of analogies and metaphors in communicating knowledge are useful to engagement and interjections where clarity is needed.

But the word agility also reminds us that the teacher monitors the room and the activity ready to address lulls and celebrate and share highlights that help to make the learning clear. The active learning facilitator works on the tip of her toes looking into the whites of the eyes of the individuals in the classroom constantly checking levels of engagement or disengagement and making decisions about how and when to foster the further involvement of individuals and groups.

I was running a 1 1/2 hour session on Tuesday. It was complicated and I knew I had to be clear. I believed that to do this I would start by setting out the rationale for what we were due to focus on. After all, if the participant doesn’t believe in the purpose of the session why would you engage? This turned out to be quite a dilemma for a few reasons, but including one relating to energy – my own energy to look into the whites of the eyes of each student to continually assess whether I had ‘connected’ individuals. The problem was, Tuesday followed Monday and Monday had been active enough for all of us! We later reflected on how Tuesday had begun and we concluded that we should have started the day with ‘an energiser’ – possibly something quite physical – to make us alert and ready to engage mentally.

Establishing rationales can put the teacher in quite a defensive position and even if I knew the value of the session and had communicated this as learning outcomes, it all counts as nothing if each person is not all to connect with the proceedings. Quite honestly, I think I moved into that zone of defending the rationale, so this teeing up of the session got protracted. Thankfully I had the experience to stand back, take a deep breath and acknowledge with the class that we needed to find another way into exploring the topic in hand. I did this by asking them directly about their own relationship with that topic. And because of my fluency with the topic I was then able to reposition the class on the back of a dialogue with one participant who understood our collective dilemma and was prepared to ping-pong certain questions to establish a collective problem. This, I suppose, is an example of agility. In terms of energy, however, one’s mind is working overtime to monitor the situation, to continue to try to make sense, and devise new strategies on the fly. Somehow, this is what I did – but it was tiring!

This example draws our attention to energy within the classroom as a whole. I believe the participants were always on my side, however on reflection later in the day, it was confirmed that, like me, they felt lost and to some extent anxious about whether we would rescue the situation – and the day ahead of us.

The exchange in class revealed that I had unwittingly put a barrier in their way – I had used a term that, in effect, distracted them and prevented them from cognitively progressing. Even though I introduced the term I had failed to check they were ready to move on. Further, my topic was to be addressed through use of a conceptual framework, and they reported they didn’t understand what such a thing was and why it might be useful to them.

Later, when I brought up my concluding slide, I realised that I could have used that as my opening gambit and simply said, “This is where we’re heading.” With that clarity, I could have even presented a map of how I expected to travel there. I have to do a similar session on this topic – I will review my plan!

This then, is part of my reflection on energy for active learning. Taking this teaching strategy is psychologically challenging and draining, and without the confidence that comes from experience and preparation, it can induce anxiety and confusion. The lesson, at least for me, is to be prepared (I was) but to remember to keep monitoring that all participants are safely locked into taking the journey.

Part 2 will continue this theme of looking at the energy flows associated with delivering active learning by looking more at the physical energies involved in the class.

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Tables, chairs, co-operation #activelearning

A table and four chairs arranged to represent co-operation

4 chairs supporting one table representing co-operation!

I have had a very fruitful day working with the Co-operative College in Manchester exploring our thinking about co-operative learning. I am proud to say that we produced this sculpture in response to a learning activity led by Cassie Earl who took us through a Boalian challenge. In fact, she gave three groups four chair and a table each and then stepped away with the challenge, “You’ve got 20 minutes to construct a representation of ‘power’.” I think we took 10 minutes – we were that good 😉

The groups came up with different responses, and we considered several ideas along the way before arriving at this construction of creating a level platform equally and interdependently supported by the chairs. Not profound. But we were pleased. Clearly, along the way we decided what kind of power we wanted to represent and the implications and meanings that different arrangements would have.

Colleagues who are aware of my interest in learning spaces and object-based learning will know why I enjoyed this!

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The advent of the Social Media for Learning Journal


Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

News that the network behind the Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference is launching a journal, Journal of Social Media for Learning, to further explore the implications of social media as a space for learning is welcome. The conferences have proven to be a vibrant space for sharing innovative practices and building a strong sense of community around this important theme. I was directly involved in initiating the conference while at Sheffield Hallam University, along with Sue Beckingham and others. My interest emerged from events led by the Media-Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MELSIG), which I still lead. For us, social media was an extension of the thinking that took place in MELSIG events around the disruptive influence of digital media on traditional pedagogies and assumptions about the relationships within the curriculum and how it is supported.

In this day and age, each of us has been affected by social media either directly or indirectly. It has changed the world we live in and how we go about that living. Social media demonstrates to each of us how our relationships with our peers, our mentors and our students have a greater value than was possible before. The digital has altered the analogue experience. We appreciate each other differently. By and large, I believe we have discovered new insight and value in those relationships, and while sensational journalists enjoy scaremongering and tend to dominate discourse around social media, the space for exploring social media’s real potential to enhance the way we learn is needed more than ever. It’s not that I deny the dangers of social media, they are very real, but there is a need to redress the balance and make sure we don’t lose something that has become very important in redefining education experientially.

This thinking explains my commitment to developing a co-operative pedagogy of association.

Our interest educationally is in understanding how media draws our attention to each other as co-creators of knowledge; co-creators who exponentially grow knowledge and provide an expectation for rethinking what we know by being creative.

It is easy to see social media as being ‘other’ – a phenomenon disconnected from a real, day-to-day learning and teaching experience. However, for me, I have always been clear that social media (as with other digital media) are part of a holistic conception of space connecting our respective experiences of learning.

Social media for learning has a symbiotic relationship with other spaces, pedagogies and theories. A boundless sense of connectivity. It exemplifies the postdigital age (Fawns,, 2019; Mathews, 2019; Sinclair & Hayes, 2019).

In my own work, I demonstrate this quite clearly through the phenomenon of learning walks and twalks. Such spaces are first and foremost conversational learning spaces from which the learner benefits by reviewing their own performance, their own understanding and their own creativity in the dynamic and vibrant company of their peers. As well as being a co-creative, and reflective space, a walk like many socially mediated learning environments is a generative and regenerative space. Generation has two meanings here: the generation of knowledge; and the generation of self and social efficacy.

Social media, to state the obvious, is social! It would be a mistake to interpret that as meaning a space for groupthink. It refers to situated learning in which social media creates a space for the individual’s construction of knowledge and identity within the supportive and vibrant environment created by others.

Returning to the concept of postdigital, therefore, I hope the new journal offers a new social space for learning in an analogue environment. After all, that is where we will come to recognise the greatest impact of social media for learning.


Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital education in design and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, pp. 132–145. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0021-8
Mathews, A. (2019). Design as a discipline for postdigital learning and teaching: Bricolage and Actor- Network Theory. Postdigital Science and Education, 1:413–426. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438- 019-00036-z
Sinclair, C. & Hayes, S. (2019). Between the post and the com-post: Examining the postdigital ‘work’ of a prefix. Postdigital Science and Education (2019) 1:119–131. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438- 018-0017-4

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Further reflections on learning walks and the #Twalk model of #activelearning


An Illustration student we encountered in the Ruskin Gallery during our #spacewalk2020 at Anglia Ruskin University

The walk I organised for last week introduced several new ideas about the role and methods of learning walks for me.

This is a very long post. I was tempted to break it down. However, I needed to get it written while my thoughts were still fresh. Hopefully, it is readable.
It covers the following topics (also see tags for keywords to search and scan through the text),
  • the difference between a walk and a twalk and the value of connectivity to other groups
  • the ‘teaching’ role – facilitator, orchestrator, notemaker, etc
  • the use stimuli (beyond the physical environment) e.g. readings, conundrums, scenarios, problems, etc
  • group size and the nature of conversation
  • deviation and self-direction
  • extending the time from 1 to 2 hours and how it affects engagement and the nature of the conversation
  • implications for active learning design in general.

To walk or to twalk?

Twalking involves, walking, talking and connecting to others via social media. It is a subset of the learning walk. By incorporating social media connectivity, a few elements are added:
  • situating your own learning experience within a broader, global context;
  • the expectation that the learner is a networked author and contributor – we do more than talk, we summarise, reflect and make posts as we walk;
  • engaging with peers by viewing and responding to their posts and interacting as a connected group.
These dimensions, potentially, can extend the learning environment exponentially, not just technically and socially, but pedagogically. It is a divergent space. However, an effective learning environment is also characterised by clarity. Each participant should be clear about what is expected of them, how to do this, and how this maps to their own purposes and capabilities. So while social media opens up the learning environment and allows for wider participant-centred engagement, without due care it can confuse the learner who, in a walk, has plentiful space to wonder and wander.
Without the social media element, the teacher/facilitator/walk leader has a clear role within the walking group. Typically, the leader introduces the walk, sets its parameters, hands out route maps, and poses questions. The leader establishes and supports the learning activity, albeit with varying degrees of direction. In other words, there is a teaching function for managing the clarity requirement.
In last week’s walk, we had walking groups in two locations (there may have been other lurking walkers). The walk was promoted as an opportunity for the Active Learning Network at Anglia Ruskin University. In my experience of walks and twalks, they are usually initiated and contextualised by a specific need or interest and subsequently others are invited to ‘twalk alongside’ by sharing the hashtag and the twalk route/conversation plan.
When you superimpose social media connectivity onto a physically located design (producing the affordance of polycontextuality), participants prioritise their engagement in the physically co-located space, enjoying the affordances of physical embodiment. The connected space creates the effect of a hybrid learning studio, but the purpose of the interaction across spaces is different – it becomes more about triangulating experience, providing a mirror reflecting the in-person experience, creating a sense of duty to and responsibility for others. These are powerfully enriching dimensions of a hybrid learning studio, but they define the space not as a seamless whole, but as a space made up of different social affordances and agencies within a pretence of equity and similarity.
In a two-centred example, like the walk the other day, these thoughts suggest one centre is subservient or of lower value to the other. No. Obviously, each group plays both roles: that of in-person community and that of connected community. Secondly, both in-person and connected situations afford different functions and provide different values. I noticed this when my in-person group was tweeting into an apparent void for a while and we received no immediate feedback or inspiration from our remote participants (they were, I suppose, busy in their in-person interaction).  I was looking for affirmation, solidarity, and an injection of thinking into our digitally co-present conversation.
Similarly, at the end of the walk, members in our group had to dash off for trains before we did the final ‘wave goodbye’ selfie. It didn’t matter, but I felt I had let our remote group down. I pictured them waiting for our wave in return to their’s, shrugging their shoulders, and deciding to call it a day without us. That connectivity creates an emotive sense of co-responsibility. It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, but a feeling of regret that I had been (unwittingly) rude.
I think the dynamics of the situation affect this change markedly. The other day, because of the small numbers, I was paying more attention than usual to the size of the groups. Both of our groups were small and, counterintuitively, I think the value of the in-person interaction grows as it becomes more feasible. I would instinctively think a large group would be noisier and more self-reliant because that is what it looks like, while a small group, presumably, needs to make itself bigger to have a decent conversation. Actually, the intimacy of a small group allows a conversation to flow more naturally in a less structured way even to the extent that the walkers deviate. This happened to both our groups on this occasion, actually and also metaphorically. Each decided to pause or go and look at something unplanned, and the smaller conversations during the walk also tended to wander around the stimulus question rather than being directed by it. The participants make and find their own value. The role of the ‘other’ group acts as a formal reminder that you are involved in a structured learning exchange with its associated responsibilities. You know that at some point you may be asked or volunteer to share and compare thinking on the common topic. I observe that larger groups need and accept a higher degree of direction in order to function at all – negotiating or enacting leadership and decisiveness gets caught up in social ettiquette, and while that is present in small groups it is easier and quicker to decide how the group dynamic will work best.
Deviation and self-direction in thinking and walking feel desirable if the group is in agreement. We reflected later that our respective deviations were the most memorable parts of the walk. Being accountable to too tight a structure is likely to hinder this. Allowing more time for wandering and wondering helped us, but a scaffolded approach to developing self/group direction over a number of sessions may help also. In this incremental approach, which would apply to any active learning space, more room for deviation is created as the scaffold is strategically withdrawn.
There is another approach to designing in self-direction based on a Victorian parlour game which I will save for another day – after I have tested it!
Intentional deviation (if there can be such a thing!) accommodates an ecological, student-centred view of the learning space in which we find a way to personalise and democratise the learning situation.
I had a mentoring meeting on the morning of the walk supporting a colleague who never ceases to inspire me. This time he introduced me to ‘On Looking’ by Alexandra Horowitz. I downloaded and read it immediately. I have struggled with the idea of learning ecologies and how to communicate their value. In part, this is because, for a highly structured timetable-based curriculum, it seems that whatever we believe, first and foremost the academic must be pragmatic – how can we cater for the individuals in the room when the number of individuals is so large? Horowitz’s book helped me to think through this perennial dilemma.
To conclude this section on walk or twalk, I think it is useful for walk leaders to know what connectivity brings to a learning walk and to form an idea about the extent and nature of the interaction beforehand – being clear about expectations and having some soft ground rules in mind that can be adjusted for group size may help.


Last week’s walk followed my mentoring meeting and, having read the introductory chapter, I realised that it would set up the Twilight Walk for later in the day. I have never spent time at the beginning of the walk doing anything more than welcoming people, checking all was in order and setting off on what inevitably would be a tight schedule.
I had designed the walk to last two hours, not the usual one hour. I did this on the basis that we were a cognate group (ARU’s Active Learning Network SIG), albeit dispersed over two campuses. I think two hours did decide some people against turning up, but it was worth taking that risk I felt.
With the extra space, however, I was able to begin the walk with a reading of two paragraphs from an accessible yet pertinent extract from the Horowitz book. The reading was a stimulus. Sometimes stimuli are provocations, conceits like scenarios or conundrums, problems or challenges. A reading felt appropriate as a basis for reflective walking – we were considering space in relation to Doing, Being, Belonging, Becoming and Connecting. I will think more about using stimuli: where, what, when, by whom, and so forth. The idea is pertinent to two active learning paradigms I am currently involved in developing: the institutional rollout of Live Briefs as authentic assessment and the design of multi- and interdisciplinary sandpit events.
The idea came from stumbling upon a perfect, in my mind, couple of paragraphs which I thought would get us off to a good start. And there is a point here that pertains to promoting active learning: a pedagogic transition to active learning need not be difficult if you, as course designer, know your stuff and can point others to the need-to-know knowledge for their own consideration. So, often active learning design is primarily concerned with stimulating curiosity and imbuing confidence in a peer group to self-direct their learning.

More time, space and distraction

In previous posts, I have noticed that it can be quite a challenge to feed Twitter and walk and talk. Fitting this into a well-planned one-hour itinerary is quite a pressure. I designed last week’s walk, therefore, to last two hours with the danger being that we would lose some participants due to being busy academics caught up in marking (a factor that makes it so difficult for many colleagues to engage in non-critical reflective development activities). As noted, that’s how it turned out: the groups were smaller and some of the key participants in the Active Learning Network didn’t turn up and one who or two who did had to leave early. Nevertheless, I was keen that we should experiment with a two-hour walk.
A walk that lasts two hours creates a better space for conversation and thinking through ideas. As the walk leader last week, I still found myself too preoccupied with the process of photographing the spaces and tweeting the best ideas. My colleague Isobel Gowers who led the parallel walk in Chelmsford told me it was the same for her. I had wondered whether that function may have fitted better given more time. It didn’t, because when you’re talking you just want to keep talking. In fact, the end of the walk petered out (in a good way – see deviation above) in terms of the formal structure because the group were so carried away in the conversation we forgot to answer the last question (ironically on connectivity!).
As walk leader/teacher, I found myself pulling people back to the central question during the whole walk. It’s what the active learner teacher must do because without any structure a common sense of purpose gets lost. And, like a DJ or orchestrator, someone must look after the interests of the whole group to ensure the conversation flows. Again, note my thoughts above on self-direction and deviation. This is not straightforward but needs to be consciously managed by the walk leader.
Some participants choose not to do the Twitter thing, and that’s okay. Isobel said her walking partner had no interest at all in the Twalk – only the walk.
In larger group scenarios, I’ve also thought about assigning or suggesting a Twitter reporter role as either a formal or informal duty within a group . For example, it would reflect the idea of assigning roles to group work such as the triads we use in SCALEUP pedagogy. However, in informal settings, it’s not always appropriate or possible to assign roles and it can be quite a skill if you have not walked, twalked, and talked before. Nevertheless, if the intention is to run it as a twalk then you need at least one person making the connection for the group in Twitter; if possible more than one person.
There is a value to having that producer-connector role. Logistically, the Twitter role adds pressure as walking, texting/typing, and photographing complicates and interrupts the conversational flow. Further, as a leader of a small walking group and leader of the Twitter conversation, it is quite a logistical challenge practically to post the questions in the right format with the hashtag and question numbers in place, never mind replying to the questions and to the answers that follow (I keep a Google Doc open on my iPad with all the questions in the right format ready to copy and paste in Twitter, and previously I have used services that will automatically post your tweets on time for you). However, the note-making recorder role involves synthesis and active listening (Gearhart & Bodie, 2011). Active listening involves restating, paraphrasing, summarising, and reframing. Good teachers do this automatically, but it is a skill that most of us, including our students, have to work at (Chastain, 2013). So, leading a conversation by adopting an active listening strategy and Tweeting is where the challenge lies. It can be very distracting and you have to do that thing where you look like you’re listening, but actually your tweeting! Sorry 😦

Clearly, the walk leader isn’t the obvious Twitter feed operator. In our two groups, both walk leaders did assume the Twitter note-making role however. This becomes inevitable when you cannot be sure there is someone within the walking group who will agree or is able to perform that role.
This led to my decision to use the Twilight Twalk format. Spanning two hours and starting at 4 o’clock, the activity spans the formal working day creating an in-between time that includes going home time. It’s a liminal space, and good for reflection. This actually accentuates the notion of shared ownership over the learning space. It makes that point by introducing ambiguity about whether we should be here at all, and as we are, then the implication that we might assume a higher degree of self-determination. Clearly, the leader/facilitator loses the automatic right to lead and so negotiated space is part of the learning context. This brings pros and cons which I wont to explore further here.

Final thoughts

Reflecting on walks and twalks demonstrates how complex the learning environment is. This complexity indicates its richness, but I would argue makes it no harder than any other learning environment to design for. Indeed, given I ‘know my stuff’, I would rather plan an active learning session than a lecture in terms of planning load. If you know how to meet the learning outcomes, the detailed planning of a lecture becomes unnecessarily arduous in my opinion. In the active learning environment, you must plan and develop your supporting resources too so that they are useful for and usable by your students/participants, however, the central questions, stimuli, social setting, and possibilities for deviation and self-direction make active learning so much more rewarding and, in fact, viable for all from the perspective of learning ecologies and connectivism.


Chastain, A. (2013). Use active listening skills to effectively deal with conflict. Michigan State University Extension, December 2, 2013. Online at: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/use_active_listening_skills_to_effectively_deal_with_conflict
Gearhart, C.C. & Bodie, G.D. (2011). Active-empathic listening as
a general social skill: Evidence from bivariate and canonical correlations. Communication Reports, 24(2,) 86-98:

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Space, walking and non-verbal communications #activelearning


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Learning walks are valuable conversational spaces. They tend to be non-confrontational and, for me, epitomise co-operative learning. Not only do they feel familiar spaces exemplifying a networked paradigm as people move naturally between small groups through the course of semi-structured discussions, but they also imbue social respect.

This article from Psychology Today on posture and position by Audrey Nelson, sets out Albert Scheflin’s concept of “frames” which offers insight on personal space and body language, and gender differences. While reflecting on learning walks, I note that the ‘side-by-side’ frame explains what I experience and value as a walker in conversation.

Unlike the Vis-à-Vis Frame which can be perceived as confrontational (especially by men) or the Terminal Marker which signals an intention to end a conversation, the Side-by-Side Frame precludes eye contact. I was listening to Radio 4 this morning where, in an aside on child-rearing, an interviewee mentioned the ‘well-known’ parental strategy of addressing difficult matters using side-by-side listening in order to give the child the space to change their mind, own, become responsible, and learning from a misdemeanour. The person mentioned difficult conversation a parent might have with a child on the school run sitting side-by-side in the car. I recognised that non-confrontation and shyness in learning (not visibly declaring one’s ignorance to peers or mentors) are important spaces to create in active learning situations. In a walk, we are comfortable to deal with challenging ideas because we naturally find strategies for thinking through and building upon the ideas of others while communicating empathy and encouragement in equal measure.

Nelson observes how “unrelated people assume a side-by-side position by accident or because of the physical nature of their circumstances. They happen to be walking in the same direction or they sit down on the same bench or the same seat on a bus. In this case, they may have no other relation to each other.” Here she makes a connection with me to ideas about incidental learning, serendipity, and non-formal learning spaces, clarifying why I value such ideas as a dimension of co-operative studio-based pedagogy.

More generally, if we are interested in ideas around Active Learning, then Scheflin’s concept of “frames”, and theories on personal space, body language, and the development of active listening skills all warrant further study.


Nelson, A. (2014). Why you stand side-by-side or face-to-face: The secret science of posture and position. Psychology Today, 27 April 2014. Online at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/he-speaks-she-speaks/201404/why-you-stand-side-side-or-face-face

Scheflen, A. E. (1974 [1966]). Quasi-courtship behavior in psychotherapy.
In S. Weitz, (Ed.), Nonverbal communication: Readings with commentary
(182-198). NY: Oxford.

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Learning Spaces twilight walk on #ActiveLearning on Thursday – join us! #SpaceTwalk2020 #ALN


This is a reminder that this Thursday from 4pm-6pm (UK) our Active Learning Network at Anglia Ruskin University is conducting a learning space walk (#SpaceTwalk2020) and we encourage you to join us from wherever you are – walking in parallel on your own campus.

See the original blog post which sets out the theme.

Here’s the ‘map’ we’ll be using on our Cambridge campus: 20-01-16 leaning spaces walk map

See the Twalk Toolkit at https://melsig.shu.ac.uk/melsig/resources/twalk-toolkit to find out more about the Twalk model which allows us to walk and talk in parallel using social media.

If you want to plan your own route, here’s the plan:

Meeting point: e.g. a reception point, then:

  • Topic 1: Doing: a studio or performance-based environment
  • Topic 2: Being: a space in which the learners enact their learning
  • Topic 3: Belonging: somewhere the students congregate e.g. outside a lecture theatre
  • Topic 4: Becoming: a learning hub or library space
  • Topic 5: Connecting: corridors, twitter, employability centre, course office, Students Union

Remember! You can do this ‘on your own’ because you’ll be with us on the hashtag

I look forward to seeing you there.


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Identity and the D3BsC Model – a briefing

This post allows me to encapsulate ideas discussed here previously in a form that I hope is useful to you whether you are an academic or educational developer. It presents the D3BsC model in the form of a useful framework intended to support thinking about identity and how educators can support our students to feel part of their course and get the most from their time at University.

Please feel free to download and use this briefing: Identity and the D3BC model. Feedback to @andrewmid or via this site is always welcome.D3BC

The model is called the D3BsC model – Doing, Being, Belonging, Becoming and Connecting. In this model,

  • Doing describes enactment as a process of the learner constructing their identity;
  • Being describes acts of embodying learning;
  • Belonging describes the value placed on the social context by the learner;
  • Becoming describes the intentional and incidental acts of negotiating one’s identity; and
  • Connecting describes the social and semantic learning context and its roles in validating identity.

The model is being used again as a framework to support the learning walk on the 16th January 2020: see Space Walk #Twalk #ALN #activelearning

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Space Walk #Twalk #ALN #activelearning

Active Learning Network – Space Walk

16 January 2020, 16:00 – 18:00 GMT
Our Active Learning Network satellite group will be taking part in a Space Walk at Anglia Ruskin University and we hope others in the sector will join us by following the same walk – but on their campus! This can be achieved using the #Twalk model – divising a physical route on your campus that takes your walking group to similar types of spaces for the discussion points and connecting with others via a Twitter hashtag (#SpaceTwalk2020). See our Twalk Toolkit at https://melsig.shu.ac.uk/melsig/resources/twalk-toolkit to find out more about the Twalk model.

The initial draft itinerary is outlined below – but I will develop this with timings and a template for you to fill in with your campus details so your walking group members can have a printed ‘map’ to follow.

The walk will consider active learning spaces and take the theme of D3BC.

Doing, Being, Becoming, Belonging, and Connecting (D3BC)


Draft itinerary and handout information

Twilight Space Walk

a twilight walk from 4pm to 6pm, 16th January 2020.

Starting point: near to Reception desks at Helmore (Cambridge) and Lord Ashcroft Building (Chelmsford).

You are invited to take part in this Active Learning Network space walk. It takes the theme of Doing, Being, Becoming, Belonging, and Connecting (D3BC).

The walk will visit five locations – one for each theme (see below). At each location, you will be invited to discuss and share your ideas about active learning using the space we are in as a stimulus.  If you are interested in interacting in this way, we will use Twitter and other social media using the hashtag #SpaceTwalk2020 (you can leave that up to others if that’s not your thing).

We will use Twitter to connect between Cambridge and Chelmsford and we will be ‘joined‘ by participants from other universities where they will be conducting similar walks and exchanging thoughts. This method is known as a Twalk!

Initially, in pairs and then by sharing more widely, each theme will be discussed by the walking group at each location. The suggested location and question for each theme is as follows:


Location: (A studio or lab environment?) to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider the affordances of this space. What does it invite the learner or their teacher to do that will engage the students in their learning?


Location: (a social learning space or somewhere where they exhibit their work or meet as a group)

to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider how this space affects the student’s sense of self within the context of their area of study. In what ways might the space affect the student’s experience, their self-direction, or their self-determination in how they approach their study?


Location: (a corridor where students congregate e.g. outside a lecture theatre) to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider active learning as a socio-material endeavour. How might this space foster a sense of belonging and a co-operative approach to active learning?


Location: (e.g. a learning hub or library space)

to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider how students ‘come to know’ (Barnett, 2009). In what ways might this space be a site for the co-creation of knowledge and the development of the student’s identity as contributing agent?


Location: (twitter, employability centre, course office, Students Union,..) to be decided

Time: to be decided

Consider the learner as a negotiator and navigator of their learning, exploring and exploiting the connections available to them. How does this space signal to the student different ways for them to enact their learning by connecting with other people, by connecting ideas, or by connecting their course-long and course-wide learning experience?

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