Being there – thinking about presence #socmedhe18 #mugafesto

#socmedhe18 organising committee and Maren Deepwell our keynote

The organising group who kindly pasted my head into shot! See what I mean about friendship and presence? Thanks Sarah. Photo by Sandra Huskinson (@FieryRed1) thanks

First, and significantly, let me thank my colleagues and co-facilitators of #socmedhe18 which happened at Nottingham Trent University on Wednesday. I will reflect separately on the power of friend-based collaboration as a disruptive basis for creating a stimulating learning environment (though I touch on it at the end of this post). For the moment this post explores how not being there in person is not equivalent to exclusion; indeed, I will ask, how can non-attendance contribute to a thriving learning environment?

The situation

I couldn’t turn the #socmedhe18 conference, despite being one of the organising group and one of the originators of the conference in 2015. This was the fourth annual conference looking at the pedagogic role of social media for learning in higher education. After three years at Sheffield Hallam it was time to form a new approach to running and hosting the conference. At the last conference at SHU some of us said we needed to ensure the conference lived on beyond its association with the university – after all, its success was clearly defined by the people (it’s own social network).

But I started a new job on Monday at Anglia Ruskin University based in Cambridge and turning up on site in Nottingham for the conference was not going to happen. So clearly I gave up and walked away…. No! It became an opportunity to prove a few things about social media for learning (mostly points I have published in various places, so here I am just proving the points and my arguments).

Social media is disruptive

It disrupts, and proves invalid, the concept of formally defined learning space. Formality is a conceit designed for the convenience of systems managers and has little to do with learning. Participation in learning is not dependent upon enclosure eg classrooms and other formal material spaces, on or off line. Student-centred learning design must be primarily driven in the interest of the learner to support their innate curiosity and their will to participate. I love this community, its diversity, its richness, it’s readiness to experiment and challenge each other. Of course I was going to be there… even if I couldn’t be there!!!

Social media disrupts hierarchy by promoting the multilogue. Everybody gets a chance to contribute and each contribution exponentially multiplies in value (assemblage theory). Indeed, the listlessness of a learning environment is multiplied inversely when attendees are not able to participate. A social media space is networked and it works best when it disregards many conventions and traditions; often the products of long-standing constraints and legacy value systems. The social media space, used wisely, exemplifies the wisdom of the crowd and co-production. I blogged and tweeted prior to the event and produced the #mugafesto activity which was designed to elicit the latent wisdom of the crowd through co-production and connectivity. I literally used social media (YouTube, this blog, tweets) to bring my simple suggestion and voice into the conference. My 3 minute intervention was simply a catalyst to release the wisdom of others and, in and of itself, conveyed no authority or critical wisdom other than, the crowd in its wisdom will be right (essential Connectivism 101).

Social media distrupts and dispels the myth that learning is dependent on monodidacticism (a single directing voice). Distributed leadership, networked authorship, and networked determinism (a networked interpretation of heutagogy?) will drive an effective learning event if allowed. I had faith and trust in others that the essential proposition of the #mugafesto activity was sound, being clear enough and easy to follow. Some people would understand and engage with it as I intended, some would seek to adapt it more to what they wanted, others would not be clear and would trust it and themselves enough to have a go and find and create value in the process anyway. That’s what happened. If I had been in the room I would have been asked too many questions like, “Am I doing this right?” “Is this what you mean?” I wasn’t in the room. I wasn’t even online at the briefing (I guess I was in an induction meeting!) I couldn’t help, even if I wanted to. But I know that people naturally make sense enough of situations when they feel motivated (They don’t cry and crumple. We are sentient and social!). The teacher is not needed to teach all the time (but traditionally they teach all the time because they are in the room and feel like a spare part otherwise!! (This becomes a challenge when moving to active pedagogy).

Social media disrupts a tacit denial of friendship. In many learning environments the peer learning relationship is neither recognised nor fostered, yet peers (full of potential, naturally good human spirit, knowledge, and mutual need) sit isolated side-by-side. Social media space is better understood as place. It is founded on trust, assumptions of mutual curiosity, latent creativity, and co-operative spirit. It fosters a sense of belonging and becoming, through the doing (activities in which we engage) and the being (the habits, cultural norms and agency) we assume as co-protagonists. Friendship, if not the fuel, is the lubricant that makes it near-on inevitable that with a simple prod the cogs will begin to whir almost under their own steam building a momentum that is hard to pull up. My challenge was only to create a little gravity (both meanings) in the knowledge that my organisers in the room could prod the curiosity machine into action. (Thank you colleagues).

Being there?

Was I there? Did I make it? Did I participate? Did I matter? It’s all about me, me, me. The teacher’s ego and need for status and control obscures learner-centred design where the educator’s concern should be foremost on the learner! Yes I have an ego, and I get excited by stretching myself and taking risks – I don’t deny it. But ultimately my contribution worked, once conceived of sorts, without me. The real value was never me, it is exactly and only what was produced (and learnt in action) by those who took part that ever mattered.

My non-attendance didn’t matter, and I argue, improved the design and running of the #mugafesto activity. Even later I felt a need to interfere by liking, retweeting and commenting the tweets that were generated. I missed being there though. I wanted to feel the vibe amongst my friends and feel proud of what we had executed (pretty much totally in Twitter it has to be said using a couple of Twitter lists). As an organiser I felt guilty that I left everything up to everyone else on the day (but hey, I have done my fair share at other events!).

So, I would still like to have gone to Nottingham, and I will go to Edge Hill in December for #socmedhe2019 (unless I decide it warrants further experiment!).

Posted in Academic innovation, active learning, belonging, BYOD, creativity, Digital Placemaking, learner engagement, learning space, Media-enhanced learning, open learning, polycontextuality, research, social media for learning | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#mugafesto #socmedhe18

What is #mugafesto?

Mugafesto is your manifesto on a cup!

What do you need your manager, your academic colleagues, peers or students to see each morning as they have their cornflakes?! What hyperbolic pronouncement will get them thinking? …Get them interested?

Mugafesto brings together the mug and the manifesto. Taking our lead from Vorticist artists and others with a revolutionary zeal, the mugafesto clearly establishes what is important. It is ‘the elevator pitch in a cup!

Find out more about what you need to do…

In the conference, we have just 15 minutes to produce our #mugafestos, so don’t stop to think…

Just act!

Form a huddle… 2 or 3s.

  1. Generate! Now, quickly, build a list of short proclamations of why you think social media for learning is not only good, but critical to how we should think about the future higher education learning environment. Remember – don’t overthink, just generate! Oh yes, short enough to fit on a mug.
    Spend 5 minutes Good, bold writing on green post-it notes
  2. Sort! Select! – Now, together sort your list – Discuss, what are the most important ideas and the best, most convincing proclamations we have generated? Put all your green post-it ideas in an ordered column.
    This must take no more than 5 minutes too
  3. Refine! – Starting at the top of your list, tweak and replace. Add a bit of colour. Find better words. Add some artwork, if you fancy. Your aim is to get people’s attention. The exclamation mark is your friend!
    You’re already running out of time! Act quickly!
  4. Post! – Pick your top 10 – photograph them (as a set or individually depending on what you think works best). Tweet them.
    Use #mugafesto #SocMedHE18
  5. Like! Retweet! – Get the ideas out there. Your aim is to get people beyond the conference liking and retweeting your ideas too. People like our managers, academics, your peers and students!!!

Vive la revolution!

What next?

Over the next few weeks we want to see your pictures of your manifesto statements on mugs, T-shirts, stickers, flags, banners, barricades… Keep using the  #mugafesto #SocMedHE18 hashtags.

As we plan #SocMedHE19, we will use the most successful manifesto proclamations to identify themes and activities and we hope to publish a collection of manifestos for you to use – giving credit where it’s due of course!


Posted in Media-enhanced learning, social media for learning | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

MELSIG – Promoting the UK Professional Standards Framework #UKPSF #MELSIG

I am publishing this to Tactile first, and will republish on the MELSIG site which is currently moving server from our original home


MELSIG is the Media-Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group, a UK higher education academic development network. I hope this article is useful to anyone who has ever participated in MELSIG’s work. It is intended to communicate our value to our managers, but also to help you reflect on media-enhanced learning and academic innovation in relation to your own professional practices.

Reflecting on the 30 events run by MELSIG to date, as well as its other activities and the values demonstrated in our network since 2008, it is clear that MELSIG is an exemplary advocate of the UKPSF.

Not only does MELSIG argue for a greater understanding and use of digital media to promote excellent teaching and learning, but its determined commitment to pedagogic innovation also provides insight and succour to the innovative academic mind. This review of MELSIG’s relationship to the UKPSF’s dimensions provides a lens on both MELSIG and the UKPSF and their respective value to academic practice in higher education.

Dimensions of practice

Areas of Activity

A1 – Taking a designed approach to teaching in which learning activities and programmes of study are planned From our earliest days, we have consistently run workshops structured around design activities and frameworks. For example, together we have explored and applied the concepts of Digital Audio Learning Objects, Media Interventions, and Social Media for Learning by taking a structured approach to using design principles that ensure ideas can be transposed to our diverse contexts.

A2 – Delivery of teaching and the support of learning using new and emerging media and technologies demands new and emerging pedagogies. Why else would we be interested? MELSIG has consistently explored the novel opportunities, and the implications, provided by disruptive media for teaching. Central to the design of our events is how we go about modelling innovative practice with media. In particular, we continually demonstrate how we make delivery interactive and participant-centred. A SIG allows all of us to be creative, wander ‘off-piste’, and take a few risks in a supportive community. This has led us as a network, and individually, to take many interesting directions which have often gone on to develop lives of their own. Our relationship to #BYOD4L and our connection to the @LTHEchat remain of great value. Our relationship with the #SocMedHE annual conference also remains strong.

A3 – Assessment and feedback are never far from the minds of academic colleagues who have presented their work at MELSIG events. We have, for example, with the support of the Jisc ASSET project and collaboration with the University of Reading, taken time to understand how audio, video, and screencast digital media are being used to enhance feedback. Audio feedback, in particular, has been an ongoing success story for MELSIG from that start. Many of the case studies in the Digital Voices book shared the diverse practices around audio feedback. The Audio Feedback Toolkit was our first toolkit and features the voices of practitioners. Media-enhanced assessment is re-emerging as an agenda for MELSIG. We are asking, how are the digital image, video, audio and social media being used as the basis of formative and summative assessment; not only from an instructive perspective, but as a dimension of our learner-generated context?

A4 – The role of digital and social media in developing effective learning environments appropriate to subject and disciplinary contexts is MELSIG’s ‘bread and butter’. Some people may come to MELSIG thinking that it is about the technology, but it becomes immediately apparent that the value of digital media, including social media, is spatial. This is not only explicit in our attention to the ‘digital voice’ and the personalisation of learning, but in the methods we have developed (e.g. Twalks) and the conceptual settings in which we have framed our thinking. Placemaking, for example, acknowledges learner agency and whether we have discussed user-generated podcasts, digital narratives, or digital storytelling, more often than not we have been talking about learner agency and learner autonomy as a context for learning.

A5 – CPD and scholarship This is easy, learning about media-enhanced learning through co-operative exploration and experimentation is at the heart of everything we do in MELSIG!

Core Knowledge

K1 – The subject material Whether it is podcasting for pedagogic purposes, learning technologies, the pedagogic use of digital video, the role of smart personal and mobile technologies, or social media for learning, we continue to push at the boundaries of understanding and practice, and we confidently cross and connect them. By doing so, MELSIG develops fluency within our community that ensures we are relevant to academic practice in higher education.

K2 – Appropriate methods for teaching the subject We have fun and can be playful because we look to the leading edge of academic practice. Our pioneering mentality allows us to play with possibilities. The Twalk, for example, is one such experiment – what happens if you take the idea of a loosely structured conversational learning walk and connect it globally using tweetchat principles? Can we share a walk and a conversation globally? Yes, we proved it works and we have continued to run twalks many times since our first foray, within institutions and connecting institutions. Then we co-produced a toolkit to explain what’s involved. This experiment in particular, but also its general implications, are about the connected global learning space. More parochially, a technique like the Video FAQs used in our FAB (Flipped/Flexible, Active & Blended) toolkit theme makes the technology and media the catalyst in the future classroom. MELSIG works as a CoLab or Makerspace in which we create room for trying things out.

K3 – How students learn An ongoing tension explored by MELSIG has been our focus on ‘whose voice?’ The didactic voice or the generative voice of the learners? The answer is that we do not need to see these as a dichotomy, but instead we need to appreciate how digital and social media extend the opportunities for supporting students to learn across diverse spaces.

K4 – The use of appropriate learning technologies. Perhaps ‘appropriate’ is our essential adjective in MELSIG. We know we can do new things with technology and media, but ‘how are they useful and appropriate?’ is our question.

K5 – Evaluating the effectiveness of teaching with digital and social media is validated by taking a communal approach to developing and sharing practice. We might have leading voices, but we take a communal approach to reviewing the knowledge we create, for example through our ‘pass the parcel’ plenaries in which we conclude our events by making a collective podcast of reflections on the day.

K6 – The implications of media-enhanced learning for quality assurance and quality enhancement, and its implications for teaching provides us with our essential remit. MELSIG adopts a ‘critical advocacy’ to guiding staff about the opportunities and challenges of using media.

Professional Values

V1 – Respect for individual learners – an early piece of research initiated by MELSIG focused on ethical podcasting. ‘Great ideas’ need to be tempered by considerations for the learner. We published an ethical framework that provides a way for the academic to safeguard students (Regan et al, 2011). The question of accessibility frequently arose in some of our early events on podcasting – “What about deaf students?”, “How can we produce subtitles for all this digital media?”, and so forth. Such questions are important of course, but by working with colleagues from disabled student support services in the sector, it became clear that digital media can actually be used to enhance access to learning and knowledge, including access for deaf, dyslexic, and international students.

V2 – Media-enhanced learning promotes participation in higher education because, in its many forms, digital and social media contributes to the development of a connected learning space in which participation is redefined by a meld of synchronous and asynchronous engagement.

V3 – Evidence-informed approaches – MELSIG has run many collaborative scholarly activities – notably producing three books. Our use of Opportunity & Challenge activities for many years as a warm up activity in events set this tone of participant-based inquiry in which we each talked about what excited or challenged us as the basis for engagement with a theme. Such a learning environment promotes an inquiry-based development ethos and leads to the co-production of knowledge in its practice, as well as its advocacy.

V4 – Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates – If there is one assumption informing MELSIG’s thinking, it is that change is constant – whatever we think today may need to change tomorrow. This has demanded a principle-based approach to innovation to develop not only media literacy, but media-fluency. This is about developing our confidence as a network to evaluate new and emerging contexts by drawing upon our experience and analysing the emerging landscape using reliable principles for enhancing learning through academic innovation.


Regan, J.-A., Middleton, A., Beattie, C. & Sextone, R. (2011). Scenario-based evaluation of an ethical framework for the use of digital media in learning and teaching. Journal of Pedagogic Development, 1(2), 39—48.

Posted in BYOD | Leave a comment

Lurking, Active Learning and Legitimate Peripheral Participation #socmedhe18


Photo by Victorien Ameline on Unsplash

The first principle of active learning according to Bonwell & Eison (1991) is that it is more than passive listening. A rather negative note to start on perhaps, but we can see where they’re coming from. As we prepare, at #socmehe18, to debate the role of lurking and question the use of the very term, I would like to explore active learning and its relationship to Lave and Wenger’s (1990) idea of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP). From this I will argue that lurking can exemplify LPP and suggest that what challenges the academic is that the learner is not only silent, but unseen. This may undermine the academic ego, but nonetheless, I argue that effectivitive lurking strategies can be seen to exemplify learning in a social constructivist philosophy. From this we can conclude that the challenge for the facilitative academic is not wanton student disengagement, but the challenge of developing effective lurking strategies, including peer support.

Let’s begin by setting out the key ideas a little more clearly.

Legitimate Peripheral Participation

LPP is part of Lave & Wenger’s theory of situated learning (1990) proposes that, given the right supportive environment, the novice learner moves from the periphery of a community to its center. In doing so, the learner becomes more actively engaged within the culture, eventually assuming the role of an expert or mentor.

Active learning

Bonwell & Eison’s (1991) other principles that circumscribe active learning make clear that, as the basis for pedagogic design, active learning has many more dimensions beyond non-passivity. For example, they highlight engagement in activities and an emphasis on applied skills and exploration. Pedagogic design is concerned with developing intrinsic motivation and how this is helped through integral feedback. Importantly, a student’s critical analysis of the learning sitiuation is fundamental.

Active learning also takes many forms, being versatile for the innovative academic intent on creating challenging, rigorous and stretching learning situations (Lave & Wenger, 1990). It is an imprecise term and that gives it strength as an adaptable philosophy capable of responding to any learning context. For example, ideas like Problem-based Learnng, Project-based Learning, Enquiry-based Learning, Authentic Learning, Scenario-based Learning, exploratory, experimental, and experiential learning, and many other notions of student-centred learning, can all be understood as active learning approaches.

Key here, though, are ideas of student-centred, deep and challenging learning activities designed to develop intrinsic motivation in the each and every learner.

Social media for learning framework

A few years ago Sue Beckingham and myself considered some of these ideas as the basis of a Social media for learning framework (Middleton & Beckingham, 2013) which I discussed at #socmedhe15. The framework demonstrates how well social media can be used to support an active learning philosophy. The framework presents seven design principles with example applications. The first principle highlights social inclusion: supporting and validating learning through mutually supportive communities of practice. A further principle highlights the co-operative nature of the social media learning space. The value of the open learning environment is also pertinent to our discussion on learning. In short, the framework as a whole reminds us that social media create a rich space for learning based on sound and established principles, but it is an innovative space that requires us as learners and academics to renegotiate our expectations of each other.

Nevertheless, advocates of social media for learning believe lurking (what Sue prefers to refer to as ‘silent participation’) is an issue worthy of debate. It is not a ‘non issue’ for me, but I wonder if concerns about non-visible, silent or hidden participation are overblown and misrepresented?

Lurking – what are we scared of?

Let’s try to break down what we mean by lurking, or silent participation.

It can describe an unknown presence. That is, it can assume a sinister meaning, that of the active, visibly committed learner being observed by undeclared others. What is more, because these observers are undeclared, ethically there is a danger that the effort and ideas of active participants will be ‘ripped off’, unacknowledged, or plagiarised. That would clearly be unfair. There is a danger, then, that this sinister non-presence may inhibit or even deter the engagement of the more vociferous, committed and evidently enthusiastic learner.

Alternatively, lurking may be thought of as ‘lazy learning’. A condemnation that some people benefit by always making life easier for themselves by not doing work if they can get away with it. Especially if, as is a common discourse in discussions of group work (Chapman et al., 2018), other, keener students can be relied upon to do all the work because they will always fill the gap, as in a pedagogic game of chicken.

Undoubtedly some of these concerns are founded. Facilitators will do their best to devise strategies to address them, especially in situations where the integrity of marking assessment tasks is likely to be undermined. However, I argue a principle of student-centred learning and learner autonomy is that each student must first assume responsibility for their own learning and this means understanding the benefits of their engagement. To some extent this requires the autonomous learner to manage the situation. There are many benefits to having more passive peers in the room, but now is not the time to go there beyond noting that audiences have a role in the active learning space and benchmarking oneself against others is a part of developing self-efficacy.

Lurking can also describe a known presence, and this brings us a little closer to ideas of LPP, learning through modelling, peer mentorship as a learning strategy and the active and positive use of scaffolding in Zones of Proximal Development (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978). ZPDs recognise that learning involves travelling a distance. Designing effective challenges and taking account of the learner’s proximity to their desired outcomes are important factors for identifying how a learner should be supported through the notional zone – from one state to the desired state. Lurking in this context is a legitimate strategy that can be adopted by the learner and, arguably, should be encouraged by the facilitative academic. In this state of emergent participation the learner actively analyses and assimilates knowledge, capabilities, and strategies that will result in effective contributions being made to the social context in due course.

A positive academic and a co-operative learning community will appreciate the value of learner transition through effective lurking and will support and devise supportive strategies for effective lurking.

Effective lurking

Effective lurking becomes an effective and acceptable learning strategy based on an understanding of the learner, and the learning community, and their being cignisant of it. It is a critical and active position, in that it involves the learner as a critical observer and listener, analysing the situation and thereby learning from it. Further, it advantages the who learning community which recognises it own role in scaffolding learning capability, and fostering and deriving benefit from a mutually beneficial communal situation.


Lurking as learning is an unknown quantity to academics and peers.That conclusion itself presumes that other forms of learning are known quantities to academics and peers. They are not. Ultimately learning is a deeply personal and dynamic experience which is partially hidden, unheard, and undisclosed; all learning involves a degree of ‘lurking’ therefore.

Effective lurking may be understood as an informed strategy adopted by any, possibly all learners, in an active learning space. when we say we are ‘learning by doing’ we are in effect learning by continually ameliorating minute risks, and in an active social learning environment, this amelioration involves letting more confident others (Vygotsky’s More Knowledgeable Others) take the lead.


Bonwell, C.C. & Eison, J.A. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Rep. No. 1). Washington DC: The George Washington University, Scool of Education and Human Development.

Chapman, J., Gillette, J., Dorneich, M., O’Dwyer, M., Grogan, B., Brown, J., Leonard, T., Rongerude, B., &  Winter, L. (2018). Off to on: Best practices for online Team-Based Learning. Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Publications. 1.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated learning: Legitimate Periperal Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Middleton, A. & Beckingham, S. (2013). Social media for learning framework. In A. Middleton, ed. ‘Smart learning: teaching and learning with smartphones and tablets in post-compulsory Education. Sheffield: MELSIG and Sheffield Hallam University.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Posted in active learning, belonging, Literacies and intelligence, open learning, research, Smart Learning book, social media for learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

C is for course of course


Building upon research I conducted with student-nominated inspirational teachers in 2014 and then developed with colleagues here at SHU, to relate my work to the NSS, I have been working closely with all academic staff across three departments this year to consider what ‘course’ means to effective practice.

Underpinning this, and building upon the 4Cs we discussed at the HEA and RAISE conferences at the time, I have established these guiding principles that have usefully informed my current work on Course-focused Practice.

Principles informing Course-focused Practice

  • Context – the course and disciplinary contexts situate any curriculum design and pedagogy. Course context creates an authentic basis for applied learning.
  • Clarity – good, inspirational teaching is founded on clarity. Students are well-briefed and supported and their formative and summative experiences are designed holistically so they make sense and promote learner confidence.
  • Consistency – consistency is an outcome of conversation amongst the course team about what practices work in context. There is evident agreement about ‘why we do it this way’ and how practice fits the discipline and fosters an appropriate professional culture.
  • Co-operation – co-operation amongst course teams and amongst students is understood and practiced as a fundamental dimension of an effective learning environment. A co-operative ethos ensures that collaboration is used constructively, for example through group work and project-based learning.
  • Connection – connection addresses the challenge of modularisation in which the learner’s experience and the academic’s practice loses confidence and momentum through fragmented and siloed practices. Connection is achieved when academics and their students actively seek to connect meanings, experience and practice through a spiral curriculum.
  • Confidence – the fostering of effective and motivated students comes from their participation in a confident learning environment.

developed by Andrew Middleton, 2018


Heaton, C., Pickering, N., Middleton, A. & Holden, G. (2015). Exploring perspectives on good, inspirational teaching. SEDA Educational Developments, 16(1), 25.

Middleton, A., Heaton, C., & Pickering, N. (2014). What makes inspirational teachers inspirational? “Preparing for learning futures: the next ten years”, HEA Conference 2—3 July 2014, Aston University.

Posted in Academic innovation, active learning, Applied Learning, Assessment & Feedback, belonging, learner engagement, research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Making curriculum design a walk in the park

Learning walks are ‘one of my things’ and I am pleased to say that regular walking with peers is part of office culture now. Charmaine Myers is one of my team and we have come to value walks as the perfect place for appraisal meetings or to just explore complex ideas and problems as I have discussed previously.

The following post is written by Charmaine who was invited to Bath Spa to share her excellent practice with colleagues there.


In Higher Education, we’re mindful that curriculum design isn’t always a walk in the park and after 10 years of supporting the concept of authentic learning principles and their application to curriculum design  I’m all too aware of the challenges. So, when I was contacted by colleague, Deborah Bowe at Bath Spa University, who had the task of designing a new module in which students would work on authentic live client projects, I wanted to support her as much as I could and help her to avoid some of the errors and pitfalls that I’d experienced, especially developing the Venture Matrix.
During my visit to Bath Spa we spent a good few hours in a classroom, where Deborah shared her great ideas and aspirations for what would be a pivotal module for her School. I helped to guide Deborah through her thought process by doing the usual -challenging her and asking incisive questions.

At some point during this long discussion, I stood up to stretch my legs and noticed the beautiful view of a small lake in the centre of the campus from the classroom window. The stunning sight gave me the inspiration that I think we both needed. At that moment, I recalled that a few months previously I had taken a stroll in the woods in Sheffield to do some future planning with a senior colleague. The experience of being outdoors had really helped to inspire and formulate my plans.

So, I suggested that we take a walk. Once we were outside and walking around the lake, I used physical features such as trees, gates and other types of vegetation to guide our discussion. We focussed on a particular challenge of the design process that Deborah had identified and, between features, we used the time to examine particular solutions. I felt that the space really helped to gain some clarity.

Deborah’s own reflection would also suggest that it was a useful process:

“We’d spent 2-3 hours talking about various aspects of the module development and things I need to consider. However, they seemed to be in my head and not in any useful order. I couldn’t see a clear path before me. On walking around the lake during the mentoring session with Charmaine it opened a series of windows in my head – that is the only way I can describe it. Once opened, I could see the view and the footpaths available. This felt like some magic spell that Charmaine put on me…..literally, that is the way it felt. The result was a structure plan to move the module design forward.”

So, next time curriculum design isn’t feeling like a walk in the park, get out there and take a literal walk in the park, garden or around the lake if you are lucky enough to have one on your campus!

Thanks to Charmaine  and Deborah

Charmaine Myers is Senior Lecturer Academic Developer & Lead for Venture Matrix, Sheffield Hallam University.

Deborah Bowe is Senior Lecturer Marketing, Business School, Bath Spa University

Posted in walking | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The happy accident – accidental learning #socmedhe18


Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

I am trying to write about formality in learning. This is an ongoing theme for me inevitability, given my interest in spaces for learning in which the learner is the prime mover and agent at the centre of their learning.

One of the themes for this is serendipity and happenstance. Another is about degrees of intention (in the mind of the teacher or learner).

Incidental learning connects some of this. Marsick and Watkins (2001) define incidental learning as learning that occurs anywhere under the control of the learner, with learning being unintended, unexpected and sometimes as an unconscious by-product of activity. Incidental learning may be learning that is taken for granted, tacit, or unnoticed. Such learning may be said to happen through osmosis and may be immersive, and in this sense, it can relate to ideas such as built pedagogy (Monahan, 2002) and authentic learning. It may also be implied in ideas about playful learning. For example, Sharples et al. (2015), in their summary of thinking on incidental learning, say it can happen through unstructured play, in which the learner learns through “problem solving, language use, social, physical, and self-regulatory skills.” They also notice that, as with play, persistence and confidence are factors affecting successful learning.
Being proximal to others, especially More Knowledgeable Others (Vygotsky, 1978), is likely to aid incidental learning, therefore. In this way, social media learning spaces characterised by trustful peer networks, are spaces that epitomise incidental learning.

What is the teacher’s role in promoting incidental learning then?

This may come down to establishing an interactive ethos and populating the learning environment with trigger objects including leading questions and comments, posters and pictures, and subliminal objects such as music, diverse books on bookshelves, photos in tweets, etc.

Or the ‘teacher’ may not have a role.

Such ideas may become more important as we consider new modes of learning and more diverse learning communities.

Accidental learning

In discussing the forthcoming Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference (aka ‘event’, ‘happening’, ‘gathering’, ‘do’…) [#SocMedHE18] Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) used the expression ‘accidental learning’. I liked it immediately – I think it is different to incidental learning perhaps. It reminds me of the idea of ‘happy accident‘ used by artists who play with the unexpected and who find value in mistakes. The difference in meaning is nuanced, but it is about knowing to look at and look for the meaning in unintended or unplanned situations as a strategy. With this meaning, educators (as art teachers have always done) can advise their students to take risks and positively value ‘mistakes’ as triggers or catalysts leading to the discovery of ideas and deeper knowledge. It is a strategy, therefore, for developing creativity as an outcome of learning.

Given that the phrase came up in a conversation about the distinctiveness of social media learning environments, does it tell us anything about such spaces? That’s a good question to explore I think. If we are thinking that this is different to incidental learning, it may point us towards the value of the ‘accidents’ that will happen in social media communication. Here are some initial thoughts on that:

  • typos
  • saying something rash that demands clarification or that triggers new lines of thought
  • thinking (too) quickly
  • generating responses and list making (quickly) – [like this]
  • taking risks because it is so easy to do – and allowing risks to ‘fail’ well or badly, but being resilient and philosophical
  • the value of learning from mistakes

So, please feel free to add your own thoughts on whether we need this idea of accidental learning! Does it say something about the distinctiveness of social media learning environments?

Update: This article on accidental learning is useful: Matheson, D. (2003). A conceptual analysis of accidental learning as an educational activity. Education On-Line. Online at:


Marsick, V.J. & Watkins, K.E. (2001). Informal and incidental learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. 89, 25-34.

Monahan, T. (2002). Flexible space and built pedagogy: emerging IT embodiments. Inventio, 4(1), 1-19. Online at:

Sharples, M., Adams, A., Alozie, N., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Means, B., Remold, J., Rienties, B., Roschelle, J., Vogt, K., Whitelock, D. & Yarnall, L. (2015). Innovating pedagogy 2015: Open University. Innovation Report 4. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Online at:

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Posted in creativity, learner engagement, learning space, Media-enhanced learning, social media for learning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment