The problem of developing consistency in academic team innovation #SEDAconf

My colleague Helen Kay and I worked with one of our course teams last year to role out SCALE UP (Student-Centred Active Learning for Upside-down Pedagogy). The expanded name of the learning space model is very descriptive and clarifies why a shift to SCALE UP will be a challenge for many academics. Every part of this name is a problem that needs clarification: Student-centred? Active learning? Upside-down pedagogy? (The UP refers to flipped learning by the way). And, as the suggestions below indicate, it requires space for exploration and not simply explanation.

The physical nature of SCALE UP is double-edged: it’s a fantastic space for active learning – yet, its strength comes from its physical inflexibility. It is likely to be unfamiliar to staff and students and is pedagogically demanding to those who are unfamiliar with interactive teaching methods.

However, our session wasn’t about SCALE UP per se, but about working with an academic team to develop their collective capacity to adopt it. Their experience of, and interest in, teaching it was diverse, yet each off them was faced with adopting the facility and methodology. They had to develop their practices in ways that would engage their students deeply through problem-based active learning methods.

How does an academic developer address the challenge of introducing a diverse course team to SCALE UP (and all it means), its benefits, design and methods? That was the question we needed to address a year or so ago, and it was the question we posed our workshop participants at the SEDA Conference. Before hearing a summary of their response, I will just note that Helen and myself provided the 8 small groups with a Padlet board (and I invite you to add your own thoughts to it and review what others added). We also produced a set of innovation cards based on Everett Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation model (1962/2003) for participants to use as discussion prompts.

We had 10 minutes at the end to capture the models conjured up by the eight groups. We had a good turn out so this limited the time each group had to feedback to one minute, but I was really impressed that the constraint focused the reports we received which are summarised here:

  • Work with the Course team to identify their desired outcomes – this may be more that the specified outcomes of the development i.e. an advantage of the development may be that it addresses other related matters too. Identify their current challenges and make the link with your offer;
  • Observe the current practice to see how much active learning is already employed in the pedagogy and how this can be enhanced and shared across the team;
  • Draw on literature and other cases where SCALE UP is being utilised;
  • Observe the method being used in other places and contexts to make the concept concrete and to demonstrate what is possible;
  • Identify relevant, evaluated and successful examples from the discipline if possible;
  • Work together as a team to restructure content so it aligns with the method;
  • Facilitate opportunities that involve students and staff in exploring the possibilities of the space together – the space creates an opportunity to consider what active learning might mean to them, what they could do differently and why;
  • Acknowledge their expertise – propose this as a solution;
  • Find examples of successful implementation within the discipline elsewhere and invite them in to demonstrate or talk about their practice;
  • Help the team identify areas of existing practice within the team that already fits;
  • Capture what comes out of the discussion around the affordances of the learning space – and synthesise this for them;
  • Explore what sort of learning will happen inside and outside of the classroom;
  • Top down management, to some degree, and good leadership is necessary if everyone in the team is to accept the legitimacy of the development;
  • Motivation management;
  • Time and space for CPD is needed that is commensurate with the SCALE of development that needs to be made;
  • Incentives (intellectual, university, collegiate, endorsement/recognition)
  • Be inclusive and gather feedback by speaking to everyone;
  • Offer consistent ongoing support.

Thanks to everyone. This list indicates the scale of the challenge of supporting such a shift across a course team. The final message therefore is, don’t underestimate what will be involved.

The workshop slides are available here.


Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of innovations, 5th edition. New York: Free Press

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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