#lthesep12 running out of time, or reflections on week 3@pgcap

Empty train station by night

… how it all started…

The day didn’t start well at all… my train was delayed by 1.5 hours (yes, 1.5 whole hours!!!) which I spent worrying on the platform that I would be late! And it was freeeeeeeeeeeeeeezing cold too. I was wearing clothes for spring weather… silly me!!! I thought I was further South… anyway, at least my brain was operating… sort of, and I tried to find a solution… what could I do??? I was going to be observed that day and could see the time slipping away and be arrving late…

This is of course typical. Whenever you try to be super early and get ready for something special… something goes wrong! I am sure you all have experienced this.


Twitter saved Chrissi too on Tuesday morning 😉

Eureka! I contacted one of my students who has joined us on Twitter (I wish more had so that we could keep in touch easily!!!). After explaining briefly my situation, I asked her for help. I was so pleased that we did co-ordinate some prep activities remotely. Thank you so so much Liz!!! Twitter to the rescue!

#lthesep12 week 3

for a reason

I arrived just on time but with my huge granny wagon full of stuff. Unpacking and sorting everything out was a task I wanted to do much much earlier but now had to do in speed mode. There is a danger doing this, that I would forget things despite the fact that I actually had a checklist… frustrating!!! Very frustrating!!! Yes,  I forgot to hang something on the wall, which I wanted to do, the intended learning outcomes… which was important but I forgot completely that I had this printout!!! Too late now.

On top of all this I was observed by Frances Bell, a dear colleague from the Business School. You know, when you want everything to be perfect and well orchestrated and you realise that it won’t happen? Well that is how I felt. Minute by minute my hopes disappeared on the frozen platform that morning. But then I started thinking. Is a peer observation really about perfection? Of course we want to show our best and do our best, but should we not be doing this all the time???? I think we should, so this problem actually helped me to improvise and sort out things on the spot. I had to think fast and be resourceful to problem solve, which I tried and did with the help of my student. It would be wonderful to find out how the student felt when I called her to the rescue. Perhaps she will read this and comment. I think, she will 😉

1. How did I feel?

I felt frustrated that I didn’t get there earlier. Frustrated that the trains didn’t run that morning. Happy that I did manage to contact one of my students. Very happy that she helped me remotely. At least Iknew that somebody would be there to start the session in time. This was very important for me and I am pleased that my student was so helpful. When the session started I relaxed and tried to get into the rhythm of the session that I had planned. It was hard because I was just not yet in tune and somehow, some parts of the session felt a bit disconnected for me. Our focus was planning a session – yes, what an irony!!!

I have to admit that I didn’t feel that nervous when Frances arrived and started filming too. Maybe because I know Frances, maybe because I felt that she would be constructive and would focus on how I could develop further as a teacher. I do believe that if we know the observer and have a good working relationship with this person, it does help the peer observation to be more useful, honest and constructive as it is not about performance but rather development. Frances made me feel relaxed and I could just be myself. Of course, it can’t be exactly the same as when I am just with my students but my students are teachers too so in effect I am un-officially peer observed all the time. My practice is under the microscope constantly 😉 This is something else, I would really like to investigate further and I think it would be a great project to do with one or two students of this cohort. I must find out who would be interested to explore this type or peer observation from the double student-teacher perspective.

2. What did I learn?

Connecting with our students outside the classroom can be very handy not just for supporting their learning but also supporting our teaching. I reached out to my students to help me in this difficult situation and it worked. For me that was a sign of partnership and shared ownership in teaching and learning and I think social media do allow us to create these links and strengthen them too. Social media are not one way channels. We support our network and our network supports us. It is a genuine camaraderie. I like that! Too often we focus on what can I get instead of focusing on what can I give! And we all can give so much! And should be more giving. It is wonderful to experience this.

Working in groups, sharing experiences is definitely effective. I tried to use the expertise of the group and enable them to lead parts of the session. I think that worked well. I learned that my students love sharing their experiences and feel comfortable in contributing in smaller groups. Some are quieter than others and I need to be careful and make sure that they also are able to fully participate. I would like a thinking classroom and create throughout opportunities for thinking, reflection, action through sharing but there also needs to be a quiet time for individual thinking and learning.

#lthesep12 week 3

Do we need to plan?

The session planning activity was also ok. Was it? I saw everybody engaging and contributing. Was this useful for my students? Some might say no. But I hope they will recognise the value of contextualising their sessions to a specific situation and more importantly to their students context. No longer is it about what we do, but how we do it. No longer is it about what the teacher does, but what the students are doing. No longer should teacher talk non-stop! Let the students lead! We need to learn to be silent as well and let our students drive learning and why not teaching too. We learn loads and loads through teaching! I always say: teaching is learning.

#lthesep12 week 3

using students’ expertise

3. What would I do differently?

I think I was overly ambitious. I had too much stuff to go through with my students and while I make the stuff available in advance, I don’t really know how many look at the resources… My plan for change is to do less in class and provide opportunities to deepen our dialogue and conversation around specific issues students might have. So, thinking now already about week 5, as week 4 is our game ;), I decided to change the action learning set activity and turn into into a flipped classroom activity in preparation for week 5. So the wiki in Blackboard has been updated and I am going to warn my students next week what they need to do in preparation for our week 5 session. We are ready to edit wikipedia!!! PGCAP username and password now available too. This will be interesting, I think and I would like to capture their thoughts on this experience. So, the plan is also to invite them to reflect in their portfolios about week 5, before, during and after. But, I am already now running away with my thoughts from week 3… is this because I want to forget, or is this because I have processed my thoughts about week 3 and am ready to move on?

Snippets from my feedback conversation with Frances

Immediately after everybody left the classroom, we had a relaxed conversation about the observed part of the session. I was really interested to find out what Frances thought and was happy that she recognised that specific aspects of the session worked really well. I was pleased that she found that the introduction to the concept of constructive alignment through an activity worked really well and I would agree with this.

#lthesep12 week 3

explaining constructive alignment through Penny’s experience

Constructive alignment when introduced on a slide disconnected from practice, completely de-contextualised can be tricky to understand. I have seen this happening in previous cohorts and students do struggle with this. However, I tried a different approach this time and I think it did work well as the theory was constructed through a practice-based activity. As constructive alignment is one of these fundamental concepts we need to crap as teachers to that we can truly make sense of teaching and learning and help our students to learn, this is a ………………  …………….. and I am leaving the blanks here, hoping that one of my students who will read this is able to recognise about what I am talking and fill the cap.

#lthesep12 week 3

constructing, de-constructing theory

Frances also noted that I gave my students to differ and co-construct their own theory. However, she noticed that they were reluctant to do so. I feel that it is indeed very important to be critical of what we read and not think that what is in a book must be right! What is right and what is wrong? Is there such a thing? A book, a theory will focus on a specific perspective. We will add our perspective. Of course in order to crtique something, we need to be able to understand first (but what does understanding really mean????) but we also need to make sense of our own thoughts and feel that it is ok to disagree with something and somebody. This is what I am trying to achieve and perhaps it didn’t work. I will keep trying and I will try different approaches. I think in week 5 we will have an opportunity to critique learning theories and perhaps create our own personalised learning theory. I am going to give this a go.

It was also very interesting that Frances noticed that some of the students might have been tired and this is something my previous peer observer also noticed. The session lasts for 3 hours and a lot of action and interaction are happening. Are my students really tired? Well, they could be, as they are the ones doing all the hard work. But what can I do? I guess, I could shorten the session and make it last for 2 hours and the remaining hour, students could focus on working in a more organic way with their students. I am actually going to ask them if this is something they would like to trial.

Overall, I felt that Frances’ comments were contructive and very helpful. I am pleased she could make it and also recorded some snippets, which I need to watch again and identify if any of them could be useful for others. It still feels hard to watch myself teaching. I don’t like my voice, how I move etc. etc. but I am  not going to repeat myself… these thoughts have all been captured in my previous observation.

Thank you Frances for making the time to observe me and your valuable feedback! A big thank you to my students who helped me in the early hours of Tuesday morning and put together a plan B and thank you of course to all my students who experimented with me during this session 😉

Ok, that is it for now. As mentioned before, all my sessions are open. If anybody would like to observe me teaching, get in touch and come along.

Next week it will be about creativity in learning and teaching. The concepts are introduced through playing a game that has elements of experiential and problem-based learning. Remember to bring your £3 spending money with you, ok? See you in Manchester City Centre on Tuesday at 9am. Can’t wait!

pre-observation data for #LTHESep12 week 3 to be observed by Frances Bell @francesbell

Pre-observation Form

Observer’s Name Frances Bell

 Date & Time
9 November, approx arriving at 11am

Pankhurst Room, Faraday House, University of Salford

 Module & Session title Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LTHE module) /
introduction to designing sessions, modules, courses

 Number of learners  17


This is week 3 of the LTHE module. This group is really diverse. We have colleagues from around the university and from The Manchester College. Among the students are colleagues who have some teaching experience and others who are completely new to teaching. One thing I would like to add is that we have students from different disciplines in this cohort. Many are from Media this time. All are lovely people and seem, so far, positive, about the module. There are some issues still with accessing Blackboard, especially for our colleagues from TMC, which is very unfortunately. However, I am providing resources and opportunities to engage using social media (our PGCAP news blog and Twitter). These have not been used widely… unfortunately. Also, there seem to be issues with time tables and finding time to do the module. I have noticed that some ‘disappear’ before the end of the session and this is worrying me. Also a number of students haven’t created their portfolios yet. I worry a lot about this, as the assessment of this modules is based on the portfolio which should be developed during the module. A number of portfolio sessions have been organised, unfortunately the uptake was small. Never had that problem before… everybody seems busy with other things…

Learning outcomes to be achieved during the session

 By the end of the session, students attending and engaging in the session will have had the opportunity to:

•discuss and critically evaluate own design process and approaches used

•explore innovative student-centred methods and active learning approaches when planning lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials to maximise engagement
•develop a better understanding of technology-enhanced curriculum design processes and explore applications in own context

Session outline

This session will be highly participatory (like all my sessions ;). A draft plan is ready. We will start exploring the learning environment first through an activity which I don’t want to reveal here for obvious reasons. The activity should make students think about being a student and how it feels to learn in a specific environment and what we teachers can do to make this environment more welcoming and effective for learning. 

We will then progress into finding out how everybody plans sessions at the moment. We will be able to identify current strengths and areas for development and shift-priorities (hopefully!). We will capture our ideas using a mindmapping tool to which everybody will contribute. This will be lead by two students.

Intended Learning Outcomes, what these are and how they help us shape our sessions/modules as well as constructive alignment will be discussed and debated and experiences shared before having a short break.

In the second part students will work in action learning sets (I must remember to re-arrange everybody!) and create a session plan for a specific cookery session based on a series of parameters. Findings will be shared and evaluated by other groups.

Now writing all this, feels already too much… am I over planning? I might but I prefer to have planned for more and use activities depending on how it goes in class. I might therefore skip one or the other activity to move on to what the class finds useful and stimulating.

We will progress to module and course design but will only skim the surface… if time allows. Students will be asked to bring in a module guide and/or programme handbook to critique in action learning sets. And also have a conversation around Quality Assurance and Enhancement of modules and programmes and related processes as well as threshold concepts.


Modelling collaborative learning. Challenging existing ideas and enable students to re-think practices. Working in groups throughout. Using low-tech and digital resources, including an electronic mindmap at the beginning of the session. Nobody will be able to hide and not participate 😉 Active and activity based learning in groups. Also opportunities for individual tasks and reflection as well as peer learning. The plan is to facilitate learning and take into account what students already know (this is very important to me). I would like to bring their current knowledge and understandig to the table and help them extend this further, through questioning and challenging current beliefs and approaches. Feedback will be provided throughout, probably verbally bit it won’t just come from me. Peer-to-peer feedback will be a feature of this session.

Are there any aspects of the session you would like the observer to focus on?

  • Group work
  • Use of resources
  • Providing feedback and stretching students through questioning

Message to observer

Hi Frances,

I am looking forward to seeing you in class on Tuesday. There will be a chair for you when you arrive and a camcorder. Please record short snippets that I can use to reflect on the session afterwards and share with my students. Also, it would be useful to organise a feedback session to discuss the observation. Last semester we did this in class immediately after the observation. There were a lots of benefits for the students to do this. However, I felt that I needed some time first to reflect on what happened. I am happy to go with what you suggest and what the students would find useful. We could also record our feedback conversation and then make available to all.

Students have been informed about your visit and I will introduce you when you arrive.

Further info about the LTHESep12 group so far are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pgcap/sets/72157631221114190/

The presentation will be added to this form as soon as possible.

If you need anything else in advance of the session, please let me know.

Thanks again and see you on Tuesday.


ps. A bit nervous now… ;(((