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Give me a stage…

A stage is like an open invitation to a musician. Just seeing a big stage makes me want to get up and make music. It’s a feeling that courses through me like lava.

I was asked to speak at the Talis Insight conference, May 1-2, at the Birmingham REP, and they specifically asked if I could integrate performance into my talk. Yes yes yes! FAB! I am sure I can meaningfully integrate performance into a talk on how I use an e-learning tool (that allows teachers to integrate and link through to various sorts of resources). I knew it could be done- I use the tech and teach about performance, so that’s easy, but I didn’t want to talk and then play Bach on my cello, as that just didn’t feel right. So I brought a couple of students and we became a live case-study/demo.

Something I have learned over the years is everything is more fun when students are involved – and I have some fab students on the MA Performance course at Chichester. Fortunately for me they all use this tech tool too and they were happy to take on this project with me.

Here’s what we did after our talk and before the Q&A:

I always learn so much from and with my students. What did we learn? Oh, we learned our individual strengths and weaknesses, interpersonal dealings, how to navigate support and freedom musically within this trio, logistics… (!) We had to transport everything, make sure we were self-sufficient in terms of sound equipment, and navigate the tech side as well as perform – so that’s loading, set-up, sound check, on – off stage, tear down, & transportation. -and the skills of talking and then performing.

Was the performance just an add-on to the talk? No. My co-presenter/performers had just done this very thing for their assessment (each their own topic) as part of their MA. Performers today need to interface with the audience and this was definitely a worthwhile experience in so many ways.

I’d like to think I will always be learning (and improving!) – For me neither music nor life is the kind of thing where you get to a certain level and then ‘if the shoe fits’ you wear it because you’re done. Life is constant growth and I am very grateful for the opportunity to have such a wonderful environment – both people and place – to continue to challenge myself to learn and grow.

A big thank you to Dave and Luke for working with me and to Talis for inviting us. If you’re interested in hearing the full talk you can see it here. We had so much fun!


Old Friends

…sat on a park bench like bookends…

Over the past week I have learned to expand  my understanding of friendship. It took a physical encounter to expand my bubble of understanding, and so many threads came together to be something more. I think, in a profoundly meaningful way I watched myself learn something.

Experience is a wonderful teacher, and cliche as it sounds, I should know how true that phrase rings. All the reading in the world, all the listening, all the watching can inform, but it is not until it is your own that you learn and know. My understanding of friends and friendship expanded and I shed a layer of skin and got closer to myself.

The breakthrough in my brain came like watching the transformation of B&W to colour. If you haven’t experienced this, have a look at the work of Marina Amaral in this article (warning, the images are of graphic historical events). If you scroll down there’s a slider in a couple of images and you can see the transformation from B&W to colour. The graphic nature of the images is relevant, and reminds me that change often comes about because the status quo has been broken, perhaps through inspiration, but more commonly from discomfort – a need to change. My understanding grew through a response to a need, and three of us rallied together to deal with the issue.

Through both joy and sorrow, I realised that the bonds we have run deeper than I knew- and people I interact with across the world, who are usually far away, are friends. We cannot run across a street or field and play in the same way I knew ‘friends’ as a child, but we are friends, and we came together to laugh and support one another in a beautiful way.

For all the talk on digital literacy and understanding, the aspect of the importance and value of human interaction somehow is not usually in the manual. That is odd because behind every bum on a seat, every typer of text, there is a person- online and off. I was talking to someone in the Netherlands last week and he relayed something someone said about progress:

We proceed at the rate of trust

-and I was reminded of the humanity of interaction. In my experience, what made the learning so vibrant, was the complete trust. Perhaps that’s what doesn’t come to the surface so clearly in everyday interactions.

You can see I’m having a hard time putting a finger on it, naming it, putting it into writing, but it is an important one to acknowledge and share. (eloquence eludes me) Friends go beyond physical, and although we all are physical people, I may never meet you and you can be just as real a friend as the person sitting next to me at the lunch table, but we don’t always say – I needed you and you were there – because we’re just having coffee or soup or whatever.

The past week the transcendent nature of friendship became real to me. So often I have thought I have few or no friends around me because so many of those I am closest to are so far away, but I was wrong. It’s not true at all, even if we don’t ‘see’ each other for months or years. I hope those who are far away know that too- hopefully it doesn’t take a crisis to bring your ah-ha moment.

My bubble of understanding has grown. Meeting people is wonderful, and nothing replaces real hugs, but it doesn’t take in-person contact to be wonderful, cherished friends.

Bubble image by CC-BY ikram elhossni Featured image CC-BY-ND-NC by Malte Borggrewe

OEGlobal Presentation: Opening the Curriculum

This session was presented at OEGlobal in Delft and it complimented the article published in the special issue of Open Praxis (full text available here). My abstract described it as: (both the full live video with slides, and the separate slides via SlideShare are embedded below the abstract)

This session presents a student-led international open learning initiative that was then integrated into the university curriculum as a credit-bearing class, and disseminated to the wider community as an eBook. It began with a link facilitating OE enhanced classroom-based teaching between a university music class in England and a high school English class in California. The high school teacher extended an invitation to the university students to meet their high school collaborators, and this became a major international trip that sat completely outside the course curriculum. Five students worked together to organise and fund the trip from the UK to California to lead workshops and perform music with a variety of teachers and students in both formal and informal learning settings. The project was then formally integrated into the university music curriculum as a credit-bearing class, retaining all of the openness of the original initiative, except for the financial uncertainty.

Students can apply to the International Experience module in their final year of study and the small group on the module then work collaboratively to design their curriculum, planning the details of their trip, from travel logistics to their musical interactions. The environment created is one of co-learning, where students are engaged in heutagogy, the highest levels of autonomous learning. The assessed reflective journal encourages students to detail their learning process and engage with deeper learning. Every cohort is completely different.

The original trip was completely documented, and the entire process was written as an eBook. This includes 10,000 words of student-authored content, and depicts the entire journey in order to serve as a model for other students and educators. The eBook was published without DRM.

OEGlobal18 Opening the Curriculum through Open Educational Practices from Laura Ritchie

OER18 Reflections

This morning at OER, I typed as I listened to the keynote. David Wiley started with definitions. (featured image CC-0 by Alan Levine)

I have a tricky time understanding the labels. Names go with identity, and that is very important, but … I tweeted that I got stuck at the first half of his first question. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but if you’re talking definitions, that means semantics comes into it, and well that is a sort of provocation for me.

An analogy- I realise it is very extreme, and draws a simple connection where there are really a dozen steps, but it illustrates a point- We learn. People, providers, researchers, all like to label the learning. We breathe, and we don’t really talk about it because it is natural to breathe – we all do it. People do discuss air, but generally they label the air when there is something wrong with it- like pollution… If we label the air because it’s broken, does that mean we feel the need to label learning because it’s broken too? Perhaps.

I think many people learn inside of their labelled boxes. How did it get into this boxed state that we have to label the stages of opening the lid. Are we backwards in learning? or just looking at learning backwards?

The seeming desire for so many boxes across education is something that baffles me.

Perhaps we need to shift our perspective. (I’m gently referring to everyone with that we, myself included. For example, how comfy were people sitting in rows and listening to lecture after lecture? Ask yourself where you sit on that spectrum. I am realising more and more that I am past left field. You can probably find me digging and planting that field- metaphorically.)

I remind myself that people who put us in boxes, -sometimes others and sometimes we do it to ourselves – and it is not necessary that we are in boxes, or rows, or even chairs in order to learn. The labels, the definitions help us to understand and when well chosen, they help us to communicate and discuss with one another, but we don’t need them to learn or to teach.

When I met David yesterday (Wednesday) I asked him how does he feel about the imposed walls/rules around open. (he said whatever I asked wouldn’t be related to the topic of his talk, but I think this was) His initial answer had to do with how he talks to people who have never heard of OER and what he said was along the lines of (paraphrasing) – he gets people to use/do something first without calling it OER, and then people are more willing to adopt and accept, to come to the concept without baggage.

I explained that I do the same with music – I facilitate learning by showing and enabling people to do it, whatever ‘it’ is, and then I show them that they are using it- and they find it very hard to refute either their capabilities – as they have done it.

What I was really asking was more about the walls for those who already know about open as a concept. We talked more, and I appreciated the time taken to genuinely discuss with me. I was a stranger after all.

Fast forward to this morning’s workshop at 11am.

It was time for the workshop I was to co-deliver with my students: The sound of an emerging network. I was setting up the room in the break and there were lots of people around. When it came time to start we were left with a cozy group of 8 participants. Each of them was wonderful and they all did love it. Did the description with music in the content scare people off I wonder or was it just the extremely good other sessions? (these photos were all taken by Alan Levine CC-0)

The plan for the session included outlining aspects of how a community forms, giving a bit of my teaching theory to start- and using our recent student-led trip to Los Angeles as a practical linking example.

I could tie in all the elements of planning, goal setting, using and developing skills, and the pattern of introducing and realising co-creation with students. I did a few slides (I though people would like slides, and also I thought it would help to have theoretical things written down for anyone who did not speak English as their first language) and then my students taught the participants a battery of skills on the ukulele. (We brought 30 with us for the session) Slides are embedded at the bottom of this post.

Next groups were set the task of making a song. I gave them a general outline of various possibilities that included using or reusing aspects of what they had just learned… they were not pushed out of the nest without wings, but if the baby bird has not yet flown, sometimes they don’t realise they actually have wings. This scary feeling was felt by some in the room.

As they worked, we (my students and I) walked around, joined in and occasionally contributed a comment or two. At one point I asked one group if everyone was involved? And why not? Who took the lead? If everyone had the skills and the tools, what was stopping participation? Interesting discussions followed. One person blogged about it:

Today I have one major highlight, having experienced the teaching of Laura Ritchie and her amazing students. Laura is an exceptional educator – she introduces an element of meta to all her work, and practice – but in such a light-touch way.And I learned a little bit about playing the Ukulele – and thought a great deal about group practices, and left with a lot  more to think about, about my own patterns of behaviour in risk-taking group situations (for the record, I probably play it safe too much and am too quick to respond to a dominant voice. In a time-constrained situation this means I wait too long to have my own voice heard). Sarah-Jane Crowson

Well… there is a whole giant human side to life and learning that is more than resources. We have to understand people to work together. In a community there are different roles, different skills, different needs, and different goals. I will only ever know a small part of any of my students, and somehow I need not only to provide them with skills and tools, but also an open mindset for working. Open for me goes beyond the label. (yes, we need words, and I do love them, but there is so much more than I could convey in just these words.)

David made a point in his morning keynote about humility, saying we do not know how someone else might use, adapt, explore, and grow what any of us make. Well yes, and especially in today’s consumerist, proprietary culture, we need to be reminded of this. But. Let me add that we do not know how someone will internalise our teaching, how it will speak to them at that moment in their life and learning, and allowing for (I’m struggling for a word here…) flexibility, fluidity, perspective that comes with each individual’s experience is something I personally need to have in my teaching. I hope I achieved that today.

If you missed the workshop and are curious about what we did, you can see it here: (when I figure out how to upload slides somewhere open, I’ll add those!)

The final performances start at 35 min in the video. The performances are fab. Thank you to everyone who participated and to all who commented at the end. Those last 15 mins (from the performances to the end) are especially worth listening to. The reflections are golden.

After the session my co-presenters and I participated in a V-Connecting session and that was a chance for the students to share their reflections. What a rich experience! Thank you so much to the V-Connecting team for inviting us. 🙂

OER18 workshop Sound of an Emerging Network, Bristol, 19 April, 2018 from Laura Ritchie


Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay

I am extremely excited to hear my original soundtrack (composed, performed, and recorded) for the documentary film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay come to life at its premier at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol on April 20, 2018. (scroll down within the embedded image below to get to the trailer or go direct to the UN of Photography website)

Read more about Bill Jay and how Grant Scott was inspired to take on this project in this BBC article.

Linking Skills, Feedback, and Assessment to develop Student Agency and Deep Learning

After giving a workshop it was suggested I write an article based on the principles. I have submitted it to present at the 2018 Learning and Teaching Conference at my university. There is not proceedings or publication from it, so I am sharing here.


This article examines the concept of constructive alignment in learning (Biggs, 2005) and how integrating reflective practice throughout teaching and learning, encourages deeper learning experiences. Teachers are encouraged to aligning learning outcomes, activities, feedback, and assessment to benefit students as they progress from learning and preparing for assessment to achievement. Recognising and understanding the student perspective is essential to understanding the balance of how taught material, experience, and avenues for application of learned skills can impact student engagement. The principles of student self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1986) and the influence these have on student’s self-regulation of their learning behaviors (Zimmerman, 1998; Schunk & Usher, 2013) is explored. The importance of integrating feedback in accessible ways and providing opportunities for students to develop their agency throughout learning is highlighted and presented alongside practical suggestions for teaching.

Keywords: feedback, assessment, learning design, student agency, reflection


Across higher education there is great variety and diversity in the spaces used for learning, from the indoor traditional lecture hall with one teacher speaking to hundreds of students, to small-group seminar or lab type environments, to one-to-one teaching or tutorial sessions, to the on-site placement learning that takes students into the professional workplace. Each affords different dynamics and possibilities for skills development, interaction, and feedback. The size, shape, and context of teaching and learning spaces impacts how teachers structure content and how students approach learning.

Historically the lecturer transmitted knowledge to the masses, whether in a Greek amphitheatre or millennia later when lecturers teaching monks could be fined for deviating from the written teaching text (Beichner, 2014). This was considered educational learning. However, a student copying from dictation is far from what has developed as a modern understanding of good learning. Kolb shifted perspectives with his definition of learning as ‘the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience’ (1984, p.38). Bandura (1997) stressed the importance of the wider cycle of human behavior, including the context of how the self, the environment, and behaviors interact to have a causal, triadic reciprocity on one another. Teachers can use scaffolding, as based on Vygotsky’s theories, to create frameworks to help students achieve. Zimmerman (1998) moved from the teacher creating frameworks to analyze the student’s metacognitive aspects of learning, to understand the importance of self-regulating learning behaviors. Blaschke (2012) made the case that learners progress from a state of pedagogy, where they are expressly taught by the teacher, to andragogy, where learners are self-directed and utelize self-regulatory behaviors, to heutagogy, where learners are still more autonomous and begin to develop their own capabilities for learning. Downes argues that in the most autonomous situations, for example self-initiated online learning, constructionism, and embedding scaffolding, is neither enough nor an adequate description of learning. Connectivism, where students are the central agents who direct, connect, and network in order to learn, enables both agency and autonomy, but when this is mixed with constructionism in autonomous learning, it is flawed: “…the problem with social constructivism. There is no constructor. There is no person other than the learner themselves to do the constructing” (Downes, 2017, p.281)

Our understanding of learning has expanded from being an external thing to a process, and includes thoughts, actions, interactions, self-beliefs, and wider applications of understanding. This holistic understanding of learning develops broader skills and attributes involved in autonomy, agency, self-belief, self-direction, networking, communication, cognitive processes, and are wrapped into the learning experience and have become increasingly important to students as they approach entry to the professional world. Employers have shifted from looking purely for applied skills to also valuing understanding, efficacy beliefs, and awareness and implementation of metacognition (Knight & York, 2004).

In modern educational contexts, large spaces have an inbuilt imbalance where a single teacher addresses many learners at one time. Lecture formats are not designed for a teacher to provide an individual experience or even respond to each person within a session, and students do not prefer learning in these passive settings (Powell, 2003; Lujan & DiCarlo, 2006). Very large classes may have limited engagement with discursive tasks during sessions, impacting interaction with students’ work during the course, and assessment for large numbers is often through an exam or a set essay question where teaching assistants often take on grading responsibilities. When this is the case, there may be little or no guarantee of feedback from the assessor, and may be little opportunity for iterative feedback in preparation for assessments. A scenario like this begs the question how does traditional teaching and assessment cater to a student’s learning? If there is a simply yes or no answer to the question, how does it contribute to on-going learning? Without interaction where is the process? Exam tasks may be unrelated to the learning and skills that were taught, and become a disjointed, linear end to a class.

Learning as a cycle

Different definitions and models of a learning cycle have developed across education and in disciplines beyond education. Decades ago Kolb introduced four stages of experiential learning that move through experience, observation, conceptualisation, and experimentation (Kolb, 1984). This became a cornerstone for bringing the student actively into the learning experience. Boyd, who was not an educational specialist, but a military colonel, presented a different model of learning with the OODA loop, consisting of Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (Boyd, 1996). Although reflection is not an explicit stage in this model, the OODA model is considered as a loop, with the understanding that feedback follows both decisions and actions, and is considered before the next situation is observed or encountered. Originally the OODA process was crafted to be a very fast process, as the speed of execution was essential for Boyd’s active men in the air force, and completing your learned assessment of a situation faster than your combatant was of great value in practical situations (Richards, 2012). Fortunately in education, speed is not always essential and in most settings there is not an aggressive race to complete learning before peers.

Reflection is an important part of the learning cycle. Kolb’s reflection involves an analysis of experienced events, allowing learning to transfer from the original context to another setting. Schön (1987) introduced various types of reflection into the learning cycle: reflection in-action and on-action. Reflecting while the action takes place, taking into account what is already known and using that knowledge to influence the unfolding experience is reflecting in-action. Reflecting on-action happens when people pause from the action, analyze, and apply criteria to experiences (Race, 2005). Creating distance from the learning event, gives an external perspective for reflecting on, or back at, learning experiences. Reflections on-action are then used to find meaning that can be applied to future endeavours. Race (2005) highlights that the deepest reflections happen when students go beyond simple analysis ‘to ask what else’(p.231).

Cowan (2006) added to Kolb’s learning cycle by integrating Schön’s (1987) types of reflection, and explained that students may reflect at different stages within their learning, as opposed to solely at the end of a learning cycle. Zimmerman (1998) introduced a difference to the other models that included elements of internal preparation that was a pre-action reflection stage, followed by engaging with activity, and was followed by another reflective phase. This formed a loop of reflection both before and after the engaging with the experience, linking reflection to the preparation for the next active cycle.

These cycles are more than abstract models, and in a higher education setting students constantly have opportunities to reflect as they gain information in the classroom setting, receive feedback, and benefit from opportunities to actively apply learned skills throughout their learning. Biggs’ concept of constructive alignment (2005) facilitates this reflection, beginning with the understanding that students learn through active participation. Biggs encourages integrating the skills, tasks, objectives, and assessment processes so they are aligned with one another, providing an experience that flows as opposed to undertaking a series of compartmentalized, unrelated skills or tasks. When constructively aligned, assessment tasks also become an active part of the learning process, instead of a bolt-on to look back on or simply mark what is already learned.

Embedding constructive alignment throughout a course, from initial introductions to assessment, encourages on-going interaction and feedback loops, which enhance learning. Feedback in its most simple form involves communication. This can be between teacher and student, peer-to-peer, or a student’s self-reflections. When students receive feedback and reflect on it, in metacognitive terms, this act of reflection is a form of self-assessment. Reflection can occur throughout the learning cycle, whether this is the ‘conceptualising’ stage of Kolb’s model, during the process of active learning (Cowan, 2006), or in preparation for the next task or cycle of learning (Schunk & Usher, 2013). When the elements of the curriculum are aligned, feedback and reflection become integrated into the learning cycle. In this way, assessment becomes another opportunity and means for reflection, and it takes on a whole new meaning.

Assessment as criterion-validated reflection

Assessment becomes an integral part of a genuine cycle, and not as an end point for learning, when it is re-framed as an opportunity to reflect (Bloxham & Boyd, 2011). Presenting assessment as a tool for criterion-validated reflection makes it valuable to ongoing learning, as opposed to the type of assessment that is an exercise in measuring some level of attainment like a binary test with right/wrong answers. An exam or test often marks the completion of a task instead of being a stage within an ongoing process, and may not necessarily encourage further thought or progress in learning. From a teaching standpoint, reorienting our perspective on assessment as a reflective tool within learning has implications on the way we feed back to students as they learn. Reflection allows self-assessment, with the chance to evaluate and reset goals in order to move forward in learning. When teachers understand how constructive alignment facilitates this from a learner’s point of view, they can better design appropriate assessment mechanisms to facilitate student learning. Teachers can support students’ learning by creating and facilitating an environment with clear objectives, tasks, and outcomes.

The need for feedback and reflection on assessment applies equally well to a student situation as it does to teaching. When teachers plan to align learning outcomes, assessments, and the activities that occur throughout their teaching, it is important to take on feedback from all available sources. Edström (2008) suggests that when teachers plan for alignment they should also practice reflection, taking into account and gathering specific student feedback through course evaluations. This two-way communication is necessary to ensure that intention is actualized, and both the content and teaching then move away from activities and assessments based on reproducing knowledge; they promote deeper learning (Biggs, 2011).

Considering the student

Students come to learning with a sense of their own personal identities, some conception of their abilities, and various beliefs in their capabilities. Some personal attributes influence and intersect with teaching and learning in a visible way and others remain entirely hidden to the teacher, however that does not mean they are not important to understand or acknowledge. Bandura (1977, 1997) introduced and subsequently developed the concept of self-efficacy, a student’s self-beliefs in their capabilities for a specific task, and these are central to learning. Without a belief in capabilities to do a task, many will shy away from it, and some will not even attempt it. As educators gain more understanding of the need for students to be active in their learning, fostering and developing self-efficacy beliefs becomes important to integrate within learning.

Students and teachers are aware of the need for goals, but few have insight into their metacognitive processes and how these can work together with self-efficacy beliefs to help facilitate and propagate the learning cycle. The educator aims to create and deliver a useful curriculum, excellent teaching, promote learning, and enable the student to broaden and fulfil his or her potential. A student may have a variety of goals, from immediate goals of completing assignments and achieving a pass mark in a specific class or module, to more long-term goals of gaining skills and crafting a portfolio that will render them employable in the future. In an ideal situation, the student and teacher understanding and perspectives on goals work in collaboration.

Students exercise agency when they are active in their learning, having the opportunity to take personal responsibility for their actions. In a learning context agency refers to the planning for and carrying out of learning processes, and there is overlap between agency and the concept of self-regulated learning. As students take responsibility for choosing and initiating tasks, they begin to self-regulate and direct their learning. When students adopt self-regulated learning behaviors, such as organising, seeking and evaluating information, and structuring their time and environment, they actively navigate their learning (Schunk & Usher, 2013) as opposed to following a predetermined path that may or may not be beneficial to the task at hand, such as relying solely on a textbook, one page after another. Using a textbook could contribute to excellent learning, but as sole curriculum and teaching tool, this significantly limits the interactive nature of learning and potential for personalisation of content for different groups of students. Self-regulated learning not only helps students to succeed at university, as they develop autonomy, use higher cognitive skills, and implement more strategic thinking in their learning, but adopting these learning behaviors also equips students to succeed in post-education training and workplace settings (Weinstein, C.E. & Acee, T.W., 2013).

Self-regulated learning practices and positive self-efficacy beliefs impact a student’s learning experience, progress, and achievement. This impact can be seen when examining the student’s approach to an assessment task. Whether for a final or formative assessment, a student’s self-beliefs and how they demonstrate agency in directing and carrying out learning contribute to how they address the criteria for an assessment. When areas of learning are constructively aligned, students are more likely to be prepared, and take an attitude that demonstrates positive self-efficacy: I understand the task, I have the skills, and I believe in my capabilities. I can do this. Students can move forward in their development as they reflect, use their skills to navigate the challenges, and continue to engage with their learning before, during, and beyond assessment.

In practice

When learning and teaching involve both the active contributions of the teacher and students, excellence, creativity, and reflection come together to enhance and encourage deeper, transferable learning. Excellence begins with the design of the learning outcomes and the curriculum. Everything from the environment to the methods can contribute to fostering a scaffolded environment enabling the student to discover and create (Pea, 2004). However, contact time is often limited, and:

“…it is not commonly found that lecture time is devoted to teaching exam skills. This is just one example of a case where students are taught content but the mode of assessment is actually removed from that content, and it illustrates a need to consider the task and how it is approached.” (Ritchie, 2015, p.40)

A teacher should not assume that understanding an assessment’s demands in terms of skills, their application, and requisite processes is obvious to a student. The perspectives of students and teachers can compete and this leads to amplifying the possibility of misunderstanding, with a disconnect between what the teacher knows and says, and what the student receives. In any one-way conversation, as in when reading typed words, there is no control or insight into how the words sound, how they will be read, or what impact those words have in the context of where and when the student reads them (Weaver, 2006). Context, inflection, setting, and any host of external factors can change how someone reads something. Without a clear direction and alignment between skills, tasks, and intended outcomes, there is room for incredible diversity of engagement and possible misinterpretation.

Scott (2016) highlights the misalignment with teaching and future tasks, and discusses the need for both awareness of a variety of experiences in learning so student transitions out of learning have ‘less abrasion’ (Askham, 2008). His focus is on transitions into higher education and vocational contexts, however these issues still exist in higher education contexts, with the multitude of facts students need to remember to pass exams, and this having little relation to their success in applying skills in a professional context (Sambell, Brown, & Graham, 2017).

Aligning the curriculum and enabling student agency means that the tasks during learning also prepare students for the tasks of assessment. In performance settings, students undertake countless repetitions, building a performance as they lead to the final performance, which in academic settings is also the assessment task. All the while they directly implement the skills needed for the performance; one repetition is not sufficient. In order to scaffold a real security and confidence in learning and delivering the necessary skills, teachers can embed several opportunities to use subsets of relevant skills to address different aspects of the assessed task.

With a diversity of tasks and methods of engagement, creativity comes into the learning process and it is more likely that feedback and reflection can be integrated into the process of creating during learning. Active feedback and reflection encourage a dialogue, instead of receiving a one-time, one-way comment, not as something to discuss, but as an acknowledgement of progress. Active, discursive feedback enables deeper learning and encourages a cyclic pattern of development.

“A challenge for the teacher is not necessarily to think of the tasks, but how to integrate them in a meaningful way into the course. …Students still need guidance and feedback on their engagement with tasks, whether these are accomplishments or failures.” (Ritchie, 2015, p.40)

When teachers consider what skills are being assessed and ask if the skills being assessed match the mode of assessment, they may find these difficult to align or find it impractical to assess the learned skills themselves, for example due to group size or time constraints. When a misalignment of skills and processes and assessment exists, there are two possible solutions: to either change the assessment, or change the nature of how skills are developed in preparation for that assessment. Teachers can begin to remedy this problem by adopting constructive alignment, helping students move from using surface approaches to engaging with deeper learning (Wang et al., 2013). Students cumulatively acquire the skills necessary to successfully achieve goals when feedback is embedded in the curriculum and tasks are aligned, and then the perceived value of learning will increase (Schunk, 2012).

As a practical example common to many higher education settings, consider what is required of a student when asked to write an essay as a final assessment task (Biggs, 2011). After sitting through a series of lectures, listening and taking notes, students may flounder with the assessment if the skills needed for writing the essay may not have been taught. Aligning the skills needed in the final assessment with the weekly learning prepares students to use their own agency confidently to complete the task. Reflecting on whether skills learned and assessments align encourages teachers to plan and perhaps re-evaluate existing curricular patterns of assessment and feedback (Sambell, Brown, & Graham, 2017).

With essays and written assessments, students need skills in research and writing, gathering information, creating coherent arguments, analysis, and integration of other researchers’ ideas, and how to clearly articulate this through written language. Embedding writing as a regular task into the course can train students and give them opportunities to engage with these skills (Kneale, 2015). It is not realistic to expect teachers to take on increased workloads, however students can feed back to one another, encouraging peer learning instead of relying solely on teacher-feedback. Scaffolding various settings where students learn from one another, through applied skills and discursive feedback can happen in class, or online through forums, blogs, or other collaborative tools.

Students need preparation in the skills required so they can be confident when it comes to accomplishing tasks. Consider broader skills such as time management and factors such as task difficulty. If students are learning presentation skills, but the assessment requires them to articulate themselves clearly in writing, then it makes little sense to set an essay task, however the learned skills could be integrated into an academic essay by requiring a 60-90 second video vignette to be embedded within or submitted alongside the essay. Producing a clear vignette piece to camera is challenging and applies learned skills, preparing them for future interview situations. Including feedback as time-stamped comments within video submissions provides context for comments and facilitates meaningful student engagement.

Constructive alignment does not belittle or discourage traditional types of assessment, but supports integrating relevant skills into learning and assessment and requires an awareness of the student experience and perspective. Participating in learning, reflecting, assessing, through skill development and active feedback processes takes on different forms across disciplines. By aligning aspects of learning and assessment in the curriculum, and embedding practical strategies and using self-regulation to encourage autonomy, agency, and self-efficacy, teachers encourage and prepare students to fully participate and engage in their learning. This engagement with all elements of learning, from skill acquisition through to reflection, encourages self-regulation, builds mastery by fostering skill development and application, teaches reflection, develops agency, and ultimately facilitates on-going cycles of learning and the transition from the classroom to professional practice.


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A leek in the shower on April 1

My son had a really long shower this morning.


and then he said it:

Mummy, there’s a really big leek in the shower.

I thought in that sort of tired, early morning way –

not again… 

Then he added –

and it’s on the ceiling below too.

It was fresh, and made me feel pretty green.

Have a look:



Hope your morning was equally eventful. A very Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all those celebrating religious holidays.

and Happy April Fools. May all the pranks be as lovely as this one.

In the game of life on this the First of April, my son has earned +1 to wit.

Featured image by sj liew CC BY-NC-ND

Toward Personal Learning: Summer Book Club Post 5

I’m still at it! Reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning. This series of posts began as a ‘summer book club‘ and at this rate I might just finish before next summer! This segment covers pp. 428-487 because there was a lot in this section that I had comments on. Below you will find the nuggets that went ‘ping!’ in my mind and a few thoughts on each of them. Quotes from the book are in a different colour so you can easily distinguish my thoughts.

The first bit that really stood out to me was a line in the section summarising Howard Rheingold’s talk in Berlin in 2014. Howard spoke about how learning has changed over the years:

“It’s also more collaborative – this used to be called cheating. It’s also cooperative – I talk about co-learning, being responsible for each other’s learning.”

I like that collaboration used to be called ‘cheating’ – and he’s right! I remember being told do you own work! Of course you do need to understand the basics of whatever concept for yourself, but the application, the generation of going beyond- that feeds on ideas and we need each other for stimulus, perspective, and simply for the multiplied brainpower and experience that coming together brings. It’s obvious really. Two candles together makes a bigger fire.

Howard puts it well:

“It’s about the group being more than the sum of its parts.” p435

Then there is one sentence that merits just copying and pasting here:

“Learning content required a more flexible model, which was provided first by David Wiley, with the Open Content License, and then by Lawrence Lessig, with Creative Commons. Both of these licenses allowed for the free reuse and redistribution of the resource, but with conditions.” p.422

Read more

Goal: To Connect

Last week some students and I got together to record an initial hello about goals to a class in California. We are studying psychology of learning and teaching and how that relates to music learning and teaching.

On a practical note, we are interested in how people connect with one another, all the variable factors, and how we can do this across continents. A great way to learn is to actually do the thing for yourself… so …..

Below is a very short audio recording where everyone said a sentence about how they make or deal with goals. Anytime people meet, there is some kind of initial hello, and we thought that having a topic for discussion might just break the ice.

We’d love to connect! Feel free to leave a comment or record a message of your own. Your message might be a statement or it might be a question.

We would love to hear how you approach goals. The audio was specifically aimed at a class of students on California, but anyone is invited to respond, whether you are old, young, musician, plumber, mum, dad, or any walk of life!

  • Did you have any goals for today?
  • Do you write down your goals?
  • Did you set your own goals or are they something imposed on you, that you just have to do for school or work?

The ball is in your court.

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Geckoam

Female Empowerment Society Woman of the Year Speech

Last night I had the privilege of presenting the Woman of the Year award at my university, and I was asked to preface with a short speech. The evening was magically thought out, planned, and presented by Chichester’s Female Empowerment Society and every detail celebrated and respected women in all our forms and our supporters.


Here’s what I said

(audio embedded, text below):

It’s a pleasure to be here with you all to celebrate women in all our forms: those in the main stream and those on someone’s margins; on a pedestal or deprived of recognition. We are all equal in our humanity whoever we are, what ever we look like, whatever our own unique abilities, beliefs or life-ways. We are here to celebrate our shared humanity and contributions as women at this, Chichester’s Woman of the Year Awards evening, organised and led by the Female Empowerment Society.

Across the globe women are phenomenal role models, and this has been a year of awakenings. Read more