A Man Walked into a Bar: humour, space, self-deprecation, #activelearning

In this post I explore the pedagogy of humour in the context of higher education teaching and learning and begin to realise there’s more to humour in the classroom than having a bit of fun!

Laughter (photo by Jackaylor Toni on Unsplash.com)

This was my starting point, realising that I like to quickly gain the trust of an audience, especially where I may be a new face to them. Humour is risky though and can easily backfire. I am careful enough (or lucky? Or insensitive? Oblivious?…) because I don’t think I have overstepped the mark, but have seen others crash, with the best of intentions, resulting in a deathly silence at best. Self-awareness, then, is important in thinking about the academic performance and the ethical responsibilities than need to be managed in the classroom while lightening the mood.

There’s a lot to go at here and I realise this post is likely to be the first of several as I consider humour and,

  • engagement, approachability, trust, and release of tension
  • wit, intellectual fluency, intelligence, and self-evaluation
  • in-jokes, jesting and banter
  • inclusivity, empathy, emotional intelligence
  • taking risks – self-deprecation, irony, and ridicule
  • performance, the role of surprise, and revelation
  • active learning roles, play, personalities and persona

And much more, I am sure. Having said that, it is an under-researched area in higher education.

Humour for engagement

In Henri Bergson’s essay Laughter (1900), he describes how laughter can release tension,

“Freud suggests that humor is generated by the pleasure in stimulating others, and/or by the desire to release emotions.”

I have also seen self-mockery as a form of whit. Indeed, I am partial to this. However, this is potentially self-defeating because it can puzzle those who expect and need you to be serious and reliable. I think this strategy is best when an audience knows you and your foibles well. It implies something about the audience – not just you: “I’m prepared to talk about my weaknesses because I know you have weaknesses too and that’s OK.” It may be better to just say that and avoid being hoisted by your own petard. Selecting when to use humour, how much, and how extreme is where we need to focus as performers – it’s all about timing. Well, not quite, but that management of interludes of relief as part of an engagement mix is useful to think about.

Performance and persona and the need to ‘edutain’ and instil some drama into today’s lecture theatre or classroom is in the mind of most academics when they deploy humour to gain the necessary attention to teach (Tait et al., 2015).

To be humorous and light-hearted requires practised stand up comedic skills or, as is likely to be the case with educators, a fluency and understanding of the situation and a wit.

How many teachers does it take to change a lightbulb?

I couldn’t continue without asking, “how many teachers does it take to change a lightbulb?” But why? And should I have asked the question?

It feels like a good thing to do because my audience will recognise the standard format. But who is ‘my’ audience? Am I unwittingly excluding people who have not encountered this before? There is no malice intended in the posing of the question but, for the uninitiated, they don’t know this. So there becomes a tendency to explain jokes (never a good thing). By the way, I have included some answers to the question at the end of this piece.

Humour comes with a cultural bias – especially ‘in-jokes’ which can be extreme implying expectation for complicity. However, like jargon, in-jokes can signal unity and ‘being in the know’ and, therefore, can be powerful indicators of a functioning community. Pedagogically, designing a humorous process (one with obvious faults to the insider for example) takes us towards some interesting possibilities – slapstick pedagogy! But it all feels dangerous and brings the possibility of adding to the tension.

Before moving on from making use of common frames of reference, I was chairing our Course Leaders Conference last Friday. Due to multiple unforeseen circumstances I found myself having to reorder the whole programme on the hoof. When the programme slide came up, to release the tension (my tension!) I said, unplanned, “All this is happening, but not necessarily in the right order!” A reference to the Eric Morecambe/Andre Previn sketch from the 1970s. It made me smile, but I have no idea if, for example, our many Asian staff will have. Well, it made me feel better and I hope my smile helped to put people at their ease. Sometimes it is worth the risk and, even though explanations can be self-defeating, humour exists within a greater context in which trust-building happens.

Playing with knowledge

More positively I’d like to shift the focus from teaching to learning and think about humour as a pedagogy and what students bring to class.

Teachers know how different our students are. They all bring themselves in glorious Technicolor and this can be a joy, or it can be tiresome and trying. But students need opportunities to express and discover themselves. For example, on a Computing course where I was teaching a module on Innovation, I was having real problems with the ‘classroom clown’ – you grit your teeth and mutter to yourself, “They’ve got a bit of growing up to do.” A comedian takes pride in how they deal with hecklers, but usually this is a matter of mutual put downs being exchanged. That’s not appropriate in class obviously. Eventually, if you are lucky, you realise that, by spending time with the individual, they have strengths that can be mined. I have found that these students are usually outgoing if nothing else and you can work up a healthy good fun relationship with them winning them friends in class, providing a laugh and a sense of joy, and generally bringing the class into a positive frame. This was the case in the Computing class. We built a strong rapport and, from week to week, we enjoyed a good humoured exchange.

Turning to pedagogic methods, focusing on fun and humour can lead to entertaining activities. Here are a few brief examples:

  • using humorous distractors or answers in in-class multiple choice polls
  • Setting a limerick as a feedback method for a group breakout session rather than a standard “tell me what you discussed”
  • Assigning behaviour-types in a role play activity, e.g. be sad, angry, flamboyant, etc
  • Using absurd problems or scenarios to explore concepts rather than highly authentic ones
  • using 10 second ‘wrong-handed’ ugly drawing activities to encourage the ‘non-artists’ to capture the essence of a group activity – then asking members of other groups to explain what it is meant to be communicating (it’s fun and, surprisingly, interrogations lead to deep inter-group sharing)
  • Anything that involves making collages, pipe cleaners, glitter (etc)!

Once you stop to think about bringing humour into your pedagogy you realise there is so much you can do. Of course there has to be some serious learning in all that fun but this can come out of the playing. Using a game of snap where each card includes a set of symbols that have real meaning or rolling a dice to decide who must answer a question or using a modified dice to change a variable in a learning scenario all shift the tone of the activity and help to promote interactivity.

Longer playful learning activities can be devised too. Modifications of TV programmes like ‘Would I Lie to You?’ (2 true answers, 1 false proposed by a student with a poker face) or a Sherlock Holmes deduction activity in which a set of clues in various media are presented along with a set of questions – the group has to resolve the mystery. The humour and enjoyment comes from the social intrigue rather that the ‘telling of jokes’ in these cases.

Breaking down barriers

The use of humour and fun in class is all about breaking down barriers and making learning more accessible. This must work for everyone, but it is a good lesson in itself – students need to know learning is fun and enjoyable and that being with others working on problems, in class and in later life, should feel good, not only challenging.

Lightbulbs and teachers

The following answers come from Barrypopik.com – please add yours to the comments:

  • ‘None, that’s what students are for.’
  • ‘None, but they can make dim ones brighter.’
  • ‘I’m not going to just tell you, you need to work it out for yourself.’
  • ‘None, there’s no budget for lightbulbs.’


Bergson, H. (1900). Laughter: an essay on the meaning of the comic.

Bruner, R. (2002). Transforming thought: the role of humor in teaching. Present Value: An Informal Column on Teaching

Garner, R. L. (2006). Humor in Pedagogy: How Ha-Ha Can Lead to Aha! College Teaching, 54(1), 177–180. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27559255

Tait, G., Lampert, J., Bahr, N., & Bennett, P. (2015). Laughing with the lecturer: the use of humour in
shaping university teaching. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 12(3).

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Ritual in the learning environment

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

In this post I explore what is meant by ritual in relation to the teaching and learning experience and, as we reset our post-pandemic classrooms, why we should care.

Given that there is little obligation to care, beyond a notion of professional value and common decency to others, Chy Sprauve reminds us (‘How ritual can inspire connection in the classroom’, Visible Pedagogy blog, 12 November 2020) that an effective classroom is one in which students feel secure. She suggests academics build a ‘ritual toolkit’. I propose understanding affinity spaces may help us do that.

Does rituality help educators to address the problem of alienation?

I am struck by the eagerness of students to return to campus and salvage something of the experience they had known or expected. I can’t tell whether this desire reflects their interests in or out of the classroom. In many ways it does not matter. We can say that a campus-based education is about experiencing the world together at a highly formative point in our lives.

If we were concerned about our students being isolated and alienated during lockdown, as I was, this was because that safe space of being amongst peers had been disrupted. For myself and my colleagues, our question was how can we now foster belonging and create a sense of safe interdependence amongst students and staff while making opportunities for friendship amongst peers. In other words, we gave serious thought to developing a surrogate online connected experience. To help us we referred to the hard-to-define affordances of affinity spaces (Gee, 2005).

As we return to campus it is time to do that same thinking exercise to remind ourselves of the value of being and learning together.

Affinity spaces

Affinity spaces accommodate social affiliation by being places where learning can happen and where acts of learning are acts of being productive together. Being productive together can be called collaboration, but the features of affinity spaces emphasise the value of the ‘being’. They can be categorised using the following features which allow the academic to check their learning environment design:

  1. Common endeavour – students connect through common interests, endeavours, goals or practices
  2. Common space – that does not discriminate on experience or reputation with each finding different value in the space according to their their own choices, purposes and identitiese
  3. Strongs portals – learning activities allow students to engage so that they can make a useful contribution to the space
  4. Dynamic and variable environment (Gee calls this ‘Internal grammar [practices]’ -) – the core focus, purpose, or activity is transformed by the actions and interactions of participants
  5. Encourages intensive and extensive knowledge – participants gain and disseminate knowledge and are able to develop indepth specialised knowledge
  6. Encourages individual and distributed knowledge – encourages and enables people to gain both individual knowledge and to learn to use and contribute to distributed knowledge (knowledge that exists in other people, material, places, or mediating devices)
  7. Encourages dispersed knowledge – the use and application of knowledge that is associated with other domains has value
  8. Uses and honors tacit knowledge – knowledge built up from experience but which may be difficult to explicate fully in words
  9. Many different forms and routes to participation – there is not a set way of participating
  10. Lots of different routes to status – people demonstrate and are known for their different strengths
  11. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources – leadership takes many forms according to the different demands and opportunities afforded by the space

Ritualising learning

Ritual is usually described in formal ways of being, rites, and ceremonies. It often has religious connotations. It describes a sense of acquiescence or willingness to silently consent to a system or to show respect for the procedures that define us. I note Wikipedia’s definition, which I find more useful in thinking about constructing our own ritual toolkit:

A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence. Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community

Wikipedia: Ritual

Its interest for educators, I think, is in knowing the value of acquiescence and agency as being complementary and without contradiction. You could say that acquiescence and agency are co-dependent features of an effective space; a space that frames expectations and provides a common sense of certainty.

Ritual may be a powerful thing, not only in uncertain times, but more generally in what is essentially an uncertain and formative phase in our lives. Committing to being a student is about making a commitment to an unknown culture and an immersion in an inherently alien, liminal and dynamic experience. For some of us our parents made this commitment before us, or our siblings, or others we know well. We may have learnt from them about the value of acquiring a tradition, becoming an ‘insider’ with ‘emic and being able to assume the identity and status that comes with that.

For many students these days, making this commitment is less well founded. Many students enter education on trust and with their own expectations which may be ill-conceived, for example being based on what they may have experienced in education previously. I try to keep this in mind as an educator. Making values, traditions, and ways of being explicit is the beginning of creating a ritual toolkit. Doing so can be an act of co-creation. Working together on creating a set of ground rules, for example, is something I advocate. Talking about learning in a constructive way clarifies expectations and debunks unhelpful myths.

Discussing rituals, habits, practices can help us to create a safe space without unduly constraining and determining a student’s experience. Talking about tools, folklore, respect, and so forth, is a healthy way to immerse our students in our practices and scholarship and developing a strong sense of our ways of doing, seeing, being, and feeling.

Being part of the tribe

Studios can be defined by their customs – rules that have to be learnt but are full of mystery and tradition; rules which may even be unspoken; rules that are learnt in the doing. This can sound elitist, cliquey, and alienating, but being an insider ‘in the know’ or an “emic” performer to an onlooker can also create a communal sense of pride in ‘being one of us’.

Calling yourself an artist, an engineer, or a scientist is arguably the first step to acquiring identity and expertise. Sennet (2009), reflecting on military and religious uses of ritual, discusses it in terms of ‘codes of honour’. As such it provides a society or tribe with a way of evaluating itself – what ‘good’ looks and feels like – and this can help us as educators to find alternative ways of assessing good learning. Dannels (2005) considers academic ritual in the studio in terms of ‘tribes’; a term also used by Becher and Trowler (2001) to help differentiate disciplinary cultures, norms and territories. Knowing who you are, why you are, what you do, how you do it, who you do it with, and how you are different to others, are all part of ‘being’ and knowing.

“In such [affinity] spaces, people who may share little, and even differ dramatically on other issues, affiliate around their common cause and the practices associated with espousing it via affinity spaces that have most or all of the previously described eleven features.”

Gee, 2005, p. 229


“Ritual-work is an intentional practice of something one builds into their routine to bring them feelings of joy, safety or calm. We probably all have rituals we practice as instructors and students, and in the space of the classroom I invite us all to bring those things more to the surface… [It] can help us to feel grounded in a very groundless time.”

Chy Sprauve

Indeed Sprauve suggests that we reconceptualise the classroom as a workshop. In effect, she says elicit the value of ritual by adopting an active learning strategy in which the ‘complex web of meanings’ (Dannels, 2005) can take shape as we observe knowledge flow and habit, identity, culture emerge.


The features of an affinity space provide a way-in for any academic designer beginning to think about enculturation in the classroom.

Equally, rituality and custom can provide a lens for interrogating what is already done, what mustn’t be lost, or what could be introduced from professional practice. Ironically, they can be invisible and hard-to-spot for the initiated who ‘have always done it this way’ but clear as day to the uninitiated – those from other tribes.

This suggests that making a list of ‘10 things that define us’ and comparing this with lists made by people from other academic tribes could be an interesting and useful exercise in recognising the value of difference.

Sprauve develops the idea of toolkits and provides some examples of how they can be developed with students.


Becher, T. & Trowler, P. (2001). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines, 2nd edition. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Dannels, D. P. (2005). Performing tribal rituals: a genre analysis of “crits” in design studios, Communication Education, 54:2, 136-160, DOI: 10.1080/03634520500213165

Gee, J. P. (2005). ‘Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces’. In: David Barton & Karin Tusting, eds, “Beyond Communities of Practice: Language Power and Social Context”. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sennett, R. (2009). The craftsman. Yale University Press.

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Connecting curiosity, creativity and criticality

Connecting creativity, criticality and curiosity

In this post I explore creativity and critical thinking and how they connect with the fostering of curiosity.

This post continues my exploration of curiosity as a state of learning in which learner motivation and agency are central. Following on from the earlier post on curiosity, the need to maintain the learner’s motivation (more than just interest) leads the academic designer to look at creating situations which ensure learning is situated and open-ended.

Problems and possibilities

Creativity and criticality relate to each other through patterns of divergent and convergent thinking.

If creativity is about possibility thinking and asking “What if?” through engagement with problems (Burnard, Craft & Cremin, 2006), critical thinking is about evaluating or weighing up possible options and answers. Learning is a process of making judgements – asking about the strengths or weaknesses of an argument, looking for alternative perspectives or answers, deciding what is or isn’t significant, or what is useful to know.

Divergent and convergent patterns of pedagogic design are the basis of design thinking in which the learner fluctuates through phases of ideation, application, and synthesis. From possibility thinking the learner applies and evaluates what they know to form firmer conceptions of knowledge. Learning is equally active, cognitive and meta-cognitive.

Open-ended learning

Iterative patterns of divergence and convergence or problem finding and problem solving suggest learning is a matter of forming conclusions and finding definitive answers. In reality, and in the case of authentic learning theory (Rule, 2006), this is not the case.

The implication of this is that the learning designer needs to situate learning so that learning always has somewhere to go: new, emergent ideas and understanding need to be continuously applied, tested and reworked. Acts of learning should seed learner curiosity by design.

This conflicts with a teaching and learning culture in which summative assessment is positioned as an acceptable and dominant motivational force – it feels so cynical and lazy to accept surface learning as the defining force in learning design.

Designing for curiosity through feed forward

Personally, I think effective assessment should always be formative – the act of assessment is itself should be a significant act of learning. Summative assessment should sit within that frame when it is necessary to make academic judgements about the learner’s performance to date, however, if the formative flow is allowed to colour the assessment activity, it becomes clearer how designing for learning can help to carry the learner forward.

The trouble is the act of summative assessment is so often reified by both the teacher and the learner. This is well-known in the literature on feedback design.

Fostering a state of learner curiosity, arguably, is as necessary as feedback that that is designed to feed forward. Feed forward, perhaps, is the obvious opportunity to reinvigorate a learner’s curiosity. Rather than telling a student about what they got wrong, feedback can emphasise possibility thinking. For example, if the assessment problem specified variable ‘x’, feedback can ask or explore what would happen if variable ‘y’ had been specified. Or, as in good feed forward design, provide intrigue in terms of how the learner might apply the theory, skill or knowledge in a later module or activity.

Don’t leave me in the lurch – inspire me

If learning is always an unfinished symphony of possibilities, it follows that the academic designer is faced with leaving the learner ‘hanging’ and dissatisfied. On the other hand, they can leave them wanting more by assigning each learner a sense of their agency: an expectation that they can reflect further to make sense of their experience and draw out further meaning.

This takes us to meta-cognition and reflective learning. Beyond learning as an act of making sense (creating a general sense of understanding), Moon points us to the need to create expectation and space to go further. Only then can making meaning, and then working with meaning, lead to transformative learning.

Curiosity, then, seems to have a strong connection with the desire to apply learning with a strong sense of agency to make meaning.


Burnard, P. , Craft, A. & Cremin, T. (2006). Documenting ‘possibility thinking’: A journey of collaborative enquiry. International Journal of Early Years Education. 14.

Moon, J. (2003). Reflection in learning and professional development: theory and practice. Logan Page.

Rule, A. (2006). Editorial: the components of authentic learning. Journal of Authentic Learning, 3 (1), 1-10.

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Community of Enhancement

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

I keep returning to the phrase Community of Enhancement to describe my philosophy behind my staff development role. It is not astounding but, significantly for me, it is a better than Community of Practice.

It reflects and models the ethos of student-centred active learning which is so often the focus of my work when supporting staff development and curriculum innovation.

Here’s how I define Community of Enhancement

Community of Enhancement

A community of enhancement (CoE) connects principles such as joint enterprise, mutual benefit, and shared practices with ideas of networked development. At the heart of CoE is the expectation of participant empowerment through the collective exploration of existing knowledge of effective practices. It is a form of networked authorship.

Individuals in such a network develop through specific acts of co-creation in which the best of practices and philosophies surface and combine to create expressions of excellent innovative practice. While creating useful tools together (e.g. guidance, explanations, case studies, stories) participants learn as contributors. The collective act accommodates ‘experts’ and ‘novices’ equally through discourses of explanation, exemplification, application, evidence sharing, questioning, and reflection.

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Curiosity – untapping latent energy

Continuing from the post ‘Sublime, curious and distracted – challenging conceptions of learning’, I want to examine curiosity towards finding strategies that can be deployed by the academic and the learner themselves to create an engaging learning environment. Surely, curiosity is a defining human attribute? We exercise our curiosity everyday through life and doing so drives us to learn. Literature on psychology agrees this much and my reading reveals curiosity to have many dimensions (Grossnickle, 2016). Importantly, the academic can adjust the learning environment to promote curious thinking (Kashdan et al., 2004)

Grossnickle explains that curiosity is more than interest. In her literature review she finds curiosity defined in several ways, including as a personality trait, as a person’s need for knowledge or information, and as a motivator for exploratory behaviour.

Nature and nurture

In the same way I approach writing a blog post to reflect my current state of knowledge and my curiosity to understand more, we can see that all of us are curious learners, receptive to knowledge and to opportunities that promise to point us to our personally defined or ill-defined next steps. This, in turn, explains why metacognition and personal acts of reflection are important in the design of active learning: we need to have space to define our next question or motivator. This suggests curiosity is both a matter of nature and nurture – the implications for the academic being that we need to think about the space or situation we create to bring the best out of people and to stimulate their engagement.

Are we closing down curiosity and engagement when we should be opening up thinking?

Secondly, I realise that learning designed around objectives, conclusions, summation, or end points is essentially a matter of closing down or resolving curiosity. This can be experienced as fragmentation in a module-centric course design approach (French, 2015) – a stop-start-stop learning experience. While bringing things to a definite conclusion seems obvious in satisfying the learner, actually, the act of leaving any phase of learning should be a matter of opening new avenues and directions, even if that means asking the learner to reflect on what is next for them. Module design should aim to leave the learner on a high, curious to explore a lingering sense of “So what…? What’s next?” And this suggests the need to think about designing-in course narrative.

This, then, is a matter of designing for liminality: in undergraduate education we can devise courses so that they flow on many levels. One level should accommodate the student’s renegotiation of their learning based on the curiosity they have about their own capabilities and their own state of knowledge, its meaning, and their opportunity to apply it.

We need to consider how we facilitate that flow and transition, especially in a module-centric experience. Who is helping the learner to engage metacognitively to redefine their next steps and next questions? This development around curiosity and negotiation is important: being able to redirect one’s interest and energy is a life skill.

Deep learning

Kang et al. (2009) have found that curiosity-driven learning also enhances the retention of new information. The academic challenge, then, is to consider strategies that seed individual curiosity so that information is interrogated and negotiated. More than presenting interesting facts, it seems that personalised learning strategies should centre on helping the learner to generate deep questions – one’s the don’t promise simple answers, but which promise cognitive adventures, challenges, decision-making, tantalising insight, and a sense of promise. This sounds like game-based learning in which a sense of immersion is fostered creating a space in which the learner is intrigued by acts of decision-making and tantalised by finding out if they allow them to proceed or whether they must retrace their thinking.

Curiosity or just interest?

Grossnickle (2016) observes the need to differentiate between the concepts of curiosity and interest. They are not synonymous, although curiosity may lead to interest.

This is particularly pertinent to the development of active learning environments. Being interesting or being interested in something are essentially passive responses to knowledge. You could preface interest-driven learning with “You need to know this.” It points us to extrinsic forms of engagement and passive strategies.

Developing curiosity, on the other hand, is a precursor to the drive to act upon the desire to know. If the academic designer keeps the learner’s curiosity in mind, they are being student-, and hopefully learning-, centred. Activity design focuses on intrinsic motivation: the learner’s desire rather than their need. While not exactly sugar-coating a bitter pill, adding a dollop of intrigue to learning is one way of using curiosity. For example, the puzzle presented by case-based learning (Yale Porvue Centre) is full of intrigue for the learner, being akin to piecing together the clues of a mystery and applying knowledge and skills in a process of deductive reasoning.

Being curious equates to a person’s drive to know, being aroused in such a way that they must satiate their desire: getting to the bottom of something. Grossnickle (2016) (with reference to Arnone and Grabowsky 1992; Berlyne, 1954; Litman 2005) offers this definition of curiosity: the desire for new knowledge, information, experiences, or stimulation to resolve gaps or experience the unknown.

A desire for agency – exploring, knowing and escaping

Agency and curiosity go hand-in-hand then. Not only do we expect the learner to respond, we expect their response to be strong and self- (or team-) directed. Within their response, the learner will have formulated the goal they seek to achieve in pursuit of resolving their curiosity.

This promise of achieving a goal, which is very clear in project-based learning design for example, seems to be at odds with needing to keep curiosity alive. It’s not. Learning is best thought of the meta cognitive dimension of such task-driven learning: by taking one step back to observe and scrutinise what we are doing, we engage on two levels – the level of doing, making or acting, and the level of reflecting in, on, and through learning. This second reflective level is about making sense of a situation and generalising knowledge so that it can be applied to future situations.

For the academic designer, this suggests curiosity may take the learner through a series of challenges each of which provides feedback to confirm or invalidate their thinking. At the same time, the goal (as end point) must be denied as the learner’s curiosity is reignited.

Curiosity is enhanced through ambiguity (i.e. there being no single right answer and plenty of possibilities). Hints and incremental feedback are part of the idea of exploration (Metcalfe et al., 2021).

As in game design, the design of learning challenges must accommodate harmless and fruitful false starts – hitting an obstacle must help the learner’s deduction and spur them on further.

Curiosity, in learning design, increasingly feels like an interplay of irresistible exploration and knowing. Learning is about satisfying a hunger and thirst for knowledge and experiencing a sense of wonderment. Wonderment, or enjoyment of knowing, includes a degree of titillation, which Metcalfe et al. (2021) describe as “a desire for agency” which “holds that in order to take advantage of the opportunity to obtain the answer by their own efforts, when curious, people may wait.” They do not opt to passively receive a neatly packaged answer, but rather they are more interested in the feeling of getting the answer for themselves. Designing for curiosity involves valuing and connecting a sense of personal achievement with the intended learning outcome or desirable knowledge state.

A focus on curiosity suggests that a student can be motivated to engage if they are led to believe possibilities exist through escaping simple unsatisfactory explanations, reasoning or contradictions. The use of critical thinking techniques may help a learner to realise that they need to go further to cure their itch.

I’ll leave you with a question, in case you are not yet curious about curiosity: how does curiosity relate to creativity and criticality? I will explore that in the next post…


French, S. (2015). The benefits and challenges of modular higher education curricula. Issues and Ideas paper, Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education. Online at: http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/2302695/modular_higher_education_sfrench_oct2015.pdf

Grossnickle, E.M. (2016). Disentangling Curiosity: Dimensionality, Definitions, and Distinctions from Interest in Educational Contexts. Educational Pschological Review, 28(23-60. DOI 10.1007/s10648-014-9294-y

Kashdan, T. B., Rose, P., & Fincham, F. D. (2004). Curiosity and exploration: facilitating positive subjective experiences and personal growth opportunities. Journal of Personality Assessment, 82, 291–305. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa8203_05.

Metcalfe, J., Kennedy-Pyers, T. & Vuorre, M. (2021). Curiosity and the desire for agency: wait, wait … don’t tell me!. Cognitive Research, 6(69). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-021-00330-0

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Sublime, curious and distracted – challenging conceptions of learning

Sublime and curious

Tyson E. Lewis in ‘The Dude Abides, or Why Curiosity Is Important for Education Today’, looks at the idea of curiosity from a pedagogical perspective. He sets curiosity in stark contrast to widely held beliefs about education where blind faith in truth and certainty keep the world simple and people happy. He refers to the influence of philosophers such as Augustine and Heidegger who warn that, without that clarity, we are prone to anarchy and void of definite structures we can follow.

Curiosity, then, is indulgent and disruptive. It is divergent and sensual; a matter of observation, impulse and distraction. What role can it have pedagogically, he asks.

Curiosity in #activelearning, as a matter of distraction, impulse, and anarchic (self-determined, intrinsically motivated inquisition?) should not be strange to pedagogues. Curiosity is a key word when understanding motivation and one dimension to a mantra I find myself using when I talk about active learning: “engagement first”. The academic’s challenge is to make each learner curious. It is the opposite of giving way to extrinsic motivational factors, especially giving way to a culture which promotes mark-driven engagement. Curiosity is the carrot to the stick of summative assessment.

I am not sure that distraction does define curiosity. I think positive distraction could be more helpful. Another word that springs to mind for me, while not a synonym as such, is ‘intrigue’ – pedagogically, curiosity is a matter of positive, formative distraction as a response to intriguing conundrums, problems and scenarios. That begins to sound like something we can work with intentionally.

Lewis, including in the chapter’s title, refers to ‘abiding’ – perhaps understood as aimless, unstructured and wandering. Wandering is another theme that appears regularly in my writing, being an important expression of openness evident in psychogeography in which the subject allows themselves to be immersed in a situation – especially a city: soaking it all up, and having no commitment to retaining anything. Virgina Woolf’s 1930 essay Street Haunting: A London Adventure is an example of this. Strikingly, the tale is inconsequential (although she can’t resist returning the protagonist to the certainty and charm of home at the end of the essay). The street is experienced as an environment without intended consequence and would seem to have little to do with education, but I would argue that it explains ideas such as immersive learning, reflection, and non-formal self-determined learning (heutagogy cf Hase & Kenyon, 2001). If you are unsure, think about the value of contemplation, or the value of other immersive experiences such as listening to music. These spaces are important to us in life, but they are frequently overlooked when discussing learning, and even more so when discussing teaching and assessment.

In academia, we do seem to value creativity and, in the same breath, critical thinking. This redirects us to the value of the interplay we can make between divergent and convergent thinking. And we do seem to value thinking about connectivity as educators. I ran a workshop on the Connected Classroom (again) yesterday, and my academic colleagues are usually one step ahead of me as we explore its many meanings and possibilities, frequently using words like experience, empathy, exploration and evolution to describe an essentially open-ended learning environment that allows for the curious. We get its value, but we are not explicit about curiosity as a design objective. Anyway, to what extent can you make other people curious? Some research argues you can’t (Zurn & Shankar, 2020) and say this explains why some students never stop asking “Why?” while others determinedly seem to wait to be told what to think, with the only sign of curiosity being about whether this week’s topic will be on the assessment!

Openness takes us back to the idea of the sublime (previously discussed). A dangerous, wild and rare, but valuable, space for the learner to find.

In conclusion

Fostering curiosity would seem to be a matter of an active learning ‘engagement first’ strategy. It reflects a student-centred learning philosophy in which each learner learns how to trust their impulse, albeit with criticality. It seems to emerge as a matter of designing the learning environment as a place for creating conundrums to intrigue.

This may be more helpful than it may seem: creating a trustful space for intrigue, deviation, divergence, distraction and immersion feels realisable. The use of games, conundrums (problems that have no solution), and similar open-ended and risky pedagogic ventures, are legitimate and valuable ‘engagement first’ strategies that lead our students to follow their noses into deep challenges in which they discover, decide upon, and determine their learning and future selves.


Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2001). Moving from andragogy to heutagogy: implications for VET, AVETRA, Adelaide, March. Available at http://www.avetra.org.au/Conference_Archives/2001/abstracts.shtml

Lewis, Tyson (2018). ‘‘The Dude Abides, or Why Curiosity Is Important for Education Today’. In: Perry Zurn & Arjun Shankar, Eds, (2020) Curiosity studies: a new ecology of knowledge. University of Minnesota Press.

Wolf, V. (1930). Street haunting: a London adventure. Online at: http://s.spachman.tripod.com/Woolf/streethaunting.htm

Zurn,P. & Shankar, A., Eds, (2020) Curiosity studies: a new ecology of knowledge. University of Minnesota Press.

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Unified Active Learning – our commitment to #activelearning wherever and however we access learning

Photo by Clint Adair on unsplash

I am in reflective mode – it’s summer 2021 and in the West we’re trying to get over the pandemic, catch our breath, and decide what we value, what we have done, what changes will stick. It is both a time to explain what I have been doing and to think about what this means for the future. So I give you Unified Active Learning.

I like to use this space for musing: it is a ‘public thinking’ space, but like many colleagues in similar educational development roles, I have been working flat out to support academic colleagues to respond to the pandemic over the last year or so. Key to that has been helping colleagues look beyond one-size-fits-all emergency ‘solutions’ to find ways that are meaningful for them and their students. For me, this has involved devising an approach called Unified Active Learning, a principle-based approach which emerged through the academic response group I lead at Anglia Ruskin University.

I went to ARU because of its Education Strategy – specifically its commitment to inclusive student-centred learning articulated in its Active Curriculum Framework. Other posts here discuss what this means to me. So when we all had to go online in March 2020, given we had spent the previous year running Course Design Intensives to develop an active learning culture, we were clear about our philosophy, even if like everyone else, making the shift online, or to a form of blended learning, was going to be a practical heave for staff and students alike.

Principles provide clarity

Unified Active Learning is a straightforward principle-based approach. It is consistent with, indeed it is a restatement of, what we had recently implemented in our Active Curriculum.

One principle we didn’t write down was ‘don’t panic and fall into the trap of relying on teacher-centred delivery-based strategies.’ In many ways the situation has helped us to think about what learner engagement means. It was not the time to start spoon feeding students. A higher education has to be about creating exciting challenges and stretches – even in a crisis.

At ARU we have established Unified Active Learning as the basis for teaching and learning during the pandemic. It is captured in the following adoption framework.

UAL Adoption Framework

The framework allows the academic to evaluate their approach:

“In their formal engagement, all of my students, however and wherever they access their learning, normally:

  1. Identity: Learn alongside each other, being aware of each other and their common purpose, having a strong association with their course and feeling a strong sense of being part of something.
  2. Connection: Learn through regular interactions in their connected class and through formative and summative group work in which they have a clear and equal role. They learn from their different perspectives, regularly working as supportive teams.
  3. Commitment: Value each other, coming to refer to each other habitually in all that they do as co-producers of knowledge and co-creators of their learning experience.”

The first dimension, Identity, reflects the essential idea that being on a course should feel like being part of something. The other two levels extend this to reflect a course experience that is active, inclusive and collaborative by design.

From this, our academics are supported to use their ingenuity to involve every one of their students, as they work out how to put these principles into actual practice: “This is your starting point. What can you do with it?”

What will stick?

A lot of academics have had to turn to technology, where in the past it may not have felt necessary to explore its possibilities. Like many universities, ARU has had a minimum expectations approach to learning technologies. To be honest, I’ve never been comfortable with such strategies.

Change comes from intrinsic motivation; essentially this means teaching is a matter of curiosity, imagination, measured risk, and design. ‘Want’, not ‘need’, is the byword. In the pandemic technology has given professional academics what they want – real options to teach. Zoom initially, then Teams, have turned out to be amazing learning spaces. Used simply at first, some great pedagogies have emerged, connecting well with the more familiar LMS – Canvas in our case. Indeed an ecology of digital-physical space for hybrid learning has taken shape, adaptable to specific contexts.

I sense that course teams have done more to share good practice amongst themselves too. A culture of peer support is even more important perhaps than advocacy of specific technologies and techniques. Facilitating further sharing and co-developing of good emerging practice is where my new academic year will start.

Looking ahead, we all need to decide how we want the blend to work. There is still so much to be done, but now this feels much more about sharing and building upon war stories than feeling embattled. People have created and experienced rich blends and begun to understand that the possibilities are endless for creating active, inclusive and collaborative learning environments.

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Transparency, turbulence, ambiguity and uncertainty in #activelearning

“One student’s safe uncertainty is another student’s chaotic nightmare.”

(Orr & Shreeve, 2018)
Photo on Unsplash

Based on research I conducted with others into student satisfaction of learning (Heaton et al., 2015), being clear with students about what is expected of them has become a key principle in my thinking about good teaching. Indeed, it is part of the ‘Cs’ framework I use (see my post ‘C is for course of course’):

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.

However, this seems to conflict with my interest in Studio for All in which uncertainty and ambiguity are celebrated as defining attributes of experiential studio-based learning (Orr & Shreeve, 2018; Austerlitz et al., 2008).

In this post I consider the compatibility of these two apparently opposing positions.

I remember being a very frustrated Fine Art student. I wanted direction and instruction. Even though I had done an Art Foundation pre-degree course, as an undergraduate I still saw an Art education as a very technical matter. I was wrong, but I didn’t yet know this.

Painting students must approach their paint, their brushes and canvas with such a technical confidence that the tools and techniques become invisible – like the keyboard to the writer, they should become second nature. Knowledge and ideas develop alongside technical proficiency. This involves a lot of failed attempts at finding one’s artistic voice. Or academic voice.

While I wanted direction, my tutors were determined to stand back and let me struggle. This created a real turbulence. It didn’t work for me. I felt adrift and unsupported. My tutors were not present enough to realise this. It was only years later that I began to realise how all this was meant to play out, and I have to say that as an experienced educator now, I am quite critical of the tutors I had – who better remain nameless!

Clarity, direction and active learning

My student experience shows there is a difference between clarifying a technical process and what knowledge discovery involves. Tools are more than the brushes and keyboards of course, they are the methods and processes we rely upon too.

Learning should be a stretch, but students need to be sure that their struggle has purpose and that they are on track. Ambiguity must feel positive as a space for self-orientation. Ensuring students have clear goals is part of this. These can be given or, even better, negotiated and navigated.

Learning design usually falls into periods of directed, self-directed, and self-determined learning. Active learning aspires to high degrees of self-determination, however this requires self-efficacy – the student must feel good about their self-pursuit of knowledge: they must know what to do, why they are doing it, and how to go about it, even if the personal route is not prescribed. In my own case, I knew what I wanted to do and why, but I was not sure how. On reflection, it is possible that I was using methods appropriately. I may have given the impression of being competent and even decisive. But looking like a good student is not the same thing as being a good student. Internally, I was lost and in turmoil, unable to make sense of what I was doing. I lacked a critical system to continuously evaluate and reconstruct my artistic strategy. In Art, this is compounded by the value put on originality and creativity – one is expected to work through a struggle to discover one’s original voice.

To be successful, all students need to find their confident academic voice or persona. This is what is known as academic fluency.

If I was giving my previous tutors feedback (a strange idea, but they really didn’t have a clue about teaching back in the day of the romantic art school), I would talk to them about the need for providing clarity within the open bounds of the art studio – establishing some guiding parameters.

Teaching is essentially quite simple in reality and has much in common with parenting. It involves,

  • a small number of ground rules to establish parameters
  • encouragement to play and to surprise oneself
  • a strong concept of scaffolding
  • regular light touch contact with tutors
  • opportunities to talk, reflect and negotiate
  • a social environment in which to learn alongside others i.e. do you own thing but find and give support through co-presence
  • modelling epistemic culture – learning to ‘be’

All of these things require minimal effort, but together establish a healthy exploratory learning environment.

Good teachers create a scholarly network around them. My tutors were absent, busy being artists in their own right. I never saw my tutor outside of the termly assessment. Modelling practice and thinking in an active learning environment brings benefits for students and tutors alike – together you can inspire each other, with the tutor being available to guide when needed.

The need for clarity in active learning should not be mistaken as a need to provide epistemic knowledge. Clarity can come from explicit direction, but it can also come from creating the right challenging and supportive learning environment.

A well-briefed student is one who is scaffolded: they are challenged and supported in equal measure, so they feel confident to enquire, explore, experiment, design, solve problems, or undertake other actions that raise their curiosity and drive themselves forward.


Austerlitz, N., Blythman, M., Grove-White, A., Jones, B., Jones, C., Morgan, S., Orr, S., Shreeve, A., & Vaughan, S., (2008). Mind the gap: Expectations, ambiguity and pedagogy within art and design higher education. In: Drew, Linda, (ed) The Student Experience in Art and Design Higher Education: Drivers for Change. Jill Rogers Associates Limited, Cambridge, pp. 125-148.

Heaton, C., Pickering, N., Middleton, A., & Holden, G. (2015). Exploring perspectives on good, inspirational teaching. SEDA Educational Developments, 16(1), 15.

Orr, S. & Shreeve, A. (2018). Art and design pedagogy in higher education: Knowledge, values and ambiguity in the creative curriculum. Routledge Research in Higher Education

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Between states: metaxis, connectedness and fluency

In-between (Photo by boris misevic on Unsplash)

Learning, for me, often describes a state of being between. This betweenness may refer to ideas, knowledge and understanding, modalities, or spaces.

In this post I examine the nuances of terminology used to describe these states; terminology that goes beyond the impersonal notion of ‘journey’ to reveal nuances of experiencing learning and how they can help when thinking about learning, embodiment, interdependence and agency.


Falconer (2011) identifies metaxis as a term used by Plato to describe the human condition of ‘in-betweenness’. It points to a sense of suspension in an ecology of polarities or binaries. This reflects the idea that learning exists in a social web of continua, a constant theme in my consideration of spaces for learning. Learning can be thought of as acts of transition through this multidimensional constellation of affordances (Middleton, 2018). In other words, learning is less about transaction and accumulation of knowledge and more to do with inter-actions (hyphen intended), immersion, and being engrossed in states of becoming. The quality of time and place, and movement therefore, matter.

Falconer (2011) notes Linds (2006) use of metaxis as “the state of belonging completely and simultaneously to two different autonomous worlds.” For me, this echoes the idea polycontextuality.


Polycontextuality describes being present in more than one context concurrently. The idea of presence is significant here in relation to agency – polycontextuality recognises the effect of spatial affordances on the person, and the effect of the person on the contexts in which they are simultaneously present. I have blogged about polycontextuality on many occasions, mostly considering the bridging effect of social media, however polycontextuality during the pandemic has become a familiar condition to all of us as we have navigated (often with great difficulty) our conflicting identities of home, work, school and leisure.


Connection, connectivity and Connectivism (Siemens, 2003) allude to our networked and ecological lives. For education, it is the connectivity created by the socio-technological and semantic nature of the situations we experience that interests me: how one thing relates to another, and through that, how connection creates new value.

Connectivity is a multidimensional phenomenon; one that reflects the influences of spatial and interpersonal affordances. Connectivity is a way of describing interactivities and agencies. For example, the idea of the lab is only given meaning by the potential for human interaction within it. Without this understanding, ‘lab’ is, at best, a room with objects in it. Equally, the potential users of the space bring their own affordances or contexts: what they know, what they have done before, what they expect, what on a given occasion they want to do with the knowledge they glean, etc.

Thinking about hybridity by analysing and reflecting on accounts of academic innovation during the pandemic, the idea of ‘digital advantage’ emerges as a way to understand that new concept of learning environment we are trying to put our finger on; the 1+1= 3 factor of the post-digital world in which ‘digital’ can no longer be problematised as distinct, separate, or other. The idea that through association or connection something greater than the sum of the parts emerges. This new space signals a potential for interactivity in the hybrid connected space.

It is fascinating to wonder how all these interweaving and connecting factors can be used to enrich the experience of learning.

Tethers and ties

Savin-Baden (2015) uses the term ‘tether’. It alludes to a changed space in which the presence of the personal digital device has disrupted previous conceptions of learning space, though it means more than this. It reflects some of the ideas of connectivity discussed above, but takes us closer to understandings of human behaviour rather than technological determination.

Savin-Baden defines digital tethering:

as both a way of being and a set of practices that are associated with it. To be digital tethered would generally be associated with carrying, wearing or holding a device that enables one to be constantly and continually in touch with digital media of whatever kind. Practices associated with digital tethering include the practice of being ‘always on’, ‘always engaged’: texting at dinner, or driving illegally while ‘facebooking’.

Savin-Baden, 2015, p. 1

This is similar to what I have previously called ‘smart learning’ (Middleton, 2015).


Savin-Baden talks about liquid learning. Certainly fluidity, fluency and flux are relevant to thinking about learning and agency in a post-digital age. It raises questions about embodiment and corporeality, and our state of ‘being’ or self-identity. Who or what is in motion? What is being changed? What is between states? And how do our respective changing states influence others?

Fluency ultimately concerns our sense of our self. Our self conception is our perception of our own unique identity in change. It bundles what we know about ourselves: our personality traits, abilities and knowledge, likes and dislikes, our beliefs and moral code, and motivation. It is how each of us answer the questions, “Who am I and who am I becoming?”

I think these questions are fundamental to university learning. They explain why developing meta cognitive skills through reflective learning is important in an undergraduate education.

Flux, then, refers to our state of continuously changing self, with the implication that knowledge itself must be understood as fluid too.


Liminality is frequently used in association with the idea of threshold concepts; a passing from one state of knowledge to another. In this context, it implies a planned incremental progression: do this first, then you are ready to move on up to the next stage.

This idea of liminality tends to focus on knowledge and skills though. Its original conception was more anthropological and concerned with a rite of passage and a conscious shift in a person’s state of being (Turner, 1969).


Hybridity, for me, simply means exploiting two or more modes or systems effectively.


A permeable state is one that is infused with qualities. I often imagine social media in terms of this infusion of media in ways that it can adapt to context. The media is malleable. It is accessed to the extent that it is useful. It interfaces smoothly with a given situation.

This leads us to instercies.


The interface or meeting point between two or more spaces, a phenomenon which asks us to consider how communication or exchange happens between spaces. In education, for example, how can feedback from one interaction come to affect learning so that it influences subsequent learning?


The exploration of the terminology covered in this post shows that we have many ways of thinking about connections and hybridities.

I have also indicated some of the benefits of developing a more nuanced discourse when thinking about learning as being a shift in a person’s state of being.

I have expressed such ideas of in-betweenness as being to do with inter-actions, implying that learning actions are relative to two or more states of being; an example of this being, the learner’s awareness of who they are and who they are becoming.


Falconer, L. (2011, November). Metaxis: the transition between worlds and the consequences for education. Presented at Innovative Research in Virtual Worlds.

Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education. Palgrave Learning & Teaching.

Middleton, A. (2015). Smart learning: teaching and learning with smartphones and tablets. MELSIG and Sheffield Hallam University.

Savin-Baden, M. (2015). Rethinking learning in an age of digital fluency: is being digitally tethered a new learning nexus? London: Routledge.

Savin-Baden, M. & Falconer, L. (2016). Learning at the interstices; locating practical philosophies for understanding physical/virtual inter-spaces. Interactive Learning Environments, 24:5, 991-1003, DOI: 10.1080/10494820.2015.1128212

Siemens, G. (2003, October 17). Learning ecology, communities, and networks: extending the classroom. Online at: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/learning_communities.htm

Turner V.W. (1969). The ritual process: structure and anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine.

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Crisis – what crisis? A time for academic innovation

RSA Future Change Framework

At Wonkfest I attended a panel session titled Changing the Culture of Changing the Culture in which Charlotte Summers, who is Head of Commercial Development at the RSA, referred to the RSA’s excellent Future Change Framework.

Admittedly, I am a sucker for a framework, but this got me thinking. Given that I believe many academics have had to leave certain teaching practices behind and have had to discover new practices, I am hopeful that more people will have discovered not just new methods, but new teaching identities – individual and collective identities.

No going back

It would be wrong to generalise, but I can see in my own working life some ingrained practices that have had to change and will never return to their pre-crisis state. Here are a couple:

  • I haven’t printed anything on paper, but I used to carry a rucksack to work weighed down with journal articles to read. I used to like making written notes on them. I am now reading papers digitally. I am not sure I have created an equivalent reading and note making habit yet, but I will.
  • It seems like I use Teams for everything I do at work. I hadn’t used it previously but now it is an integral part of my working ecosystem. While a physical room has its own affordances, my digital ‘room’ is always with me. Many of us are asking if we’ll ever go back to campus. Even though I am making plans for working back on campus from time to time, I can’t with all honesty work out what will work better, and indeed what ‘better’ means. I am actually a lot more productive being away from campus – at least double. It’s incredible what I can achieve in a day, and I believe I was very productive before. It’s not that simple though: is the quality of my working life as good as it was? No. I do miss real people (as opposed to pixel people) and there are some situations where I want to stretch out with a coffee and just cogitate with colleagues or walk up to a whiteboard and think through ideas visually with others. I don’t want to go back for the sake of presenteism though – we must leave that behind and focus on the good reasons for being with others. The productivity is indicative perhaps of a more instrumental ethos. I find myself having to make more decisions, whereas my natural inclination is to be more consultative.

Stop, start, pause, resume

The RSA framework is not so new – it’s a version of the stop, start, pause, resume workload management approach I’ve used for years, a system that clarifies when you realise that to start new work you have first got to relinquish existing work.

But the context is different. Now is a brilliant time to remind ourselves that we all have an excuse at the same time to stop things – those things we assume are unassailable and are part of who we are but are probably just old habits that serve to reassure us that we are indispensable. Letting go of ingrained behaviours can be extremely difficult when socially we are not all in the same place. But we are all in the same place – for a moment. It is a good time for change through reappraisal.

Become a social innovator

My appeal, and I think the appeal of the RSA Framework, is to redefine yourself as an innovator, socially. Innovators are usually cast as exceptional people who buck the trend in pursuit of higher goals. I have written about them being outlaws and risk-loving ‘work arounders’ (Middleton, 2018). But now we have a great opportunity to adopt innovator mindsets collectively – it is easier for more of us to spot the opportunity and give each other courage to think and act differently.

So academic course teams, think differently and give each other the courage to imagine positively. Discourage the naysayers and Devil’s advocates (Kelley & Litman, 2005) and start getting exited together about what you have just achieved and how doing more new things (and shedding more old habits) can make your lives better and your students’ learning experience better.

Don’t snap back

Peter Bryant blogged a few months ago cautioning about the tendency we may have to fall back into the old normal – when “staff and students want to stop feeling liminal and transition back to certainty.” I agree, the desire for certainty is possibly the danger here.

Peter discusses what the urge for normalcy means for teaching and learning. For me, snapping back to lectures, discarding technologies that can connect our classrooms with people and situations around the world, allowing confident voices to dominate proceedings when the digital has shown us how to be more inclusive and egalitarian, are just three that spring to mind for me. Peter lists others. What would you list?

The crisis?

Peter is right, our crisis would be giving way to the temptation to snap back – the unthinking desire to reclaim a kind of normalcy. Even an overbearing romanticism based on the mis-belief that the past was perfect.

The crisis would be that we ignore that we have been through hard times together – it often feels we forget about the power of acting together. Instead, notice how much we have cared for each other, and missed each other.

Now is the time to co-operate and become social innovators. Keep hold of the good stuff and shed those worn out academic habits once and for all. Give each other courage to change.


Bryant, P. (2021, blog post 12th January). SnapBack. Peter Bryant: Post Digital Learning

Kelley, T. & Litman, J. (2005). The ten faces of innovation. New York: Doubleday.

Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education. Palgrave Learning & Teaching.

RSA (2021). Future Change Framework : a way to think about how we respond to crisis and how that can drive positive change – https://www.thersa.org/approach/future-change-framework

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