ALDinHE Annual Awards 2020

This page celebrates and publicises exceptional work taking place within the learning development community, highlighted through the ALDinHE Annual Awards nominations. Here you can read about the nominees’ work from the 2020 awards.

Congratulations to our 2020 winner: Dr Sonia Hood, University of Reading

Dr Sonia Hood University of Reading, nominated by Dr Michelle Reid, Oxford Brookes:

I am nominating Dr Sonia Hood for the ALDinHE Award. Sonia embodies Learning Development through her generous leadership which raises the confidence and capacity of students and colleagues.

Sonia has recently been made team leader of Study Advice at the University of Reading during a time when the Library is undergoing a lot of change. Sonia is a supportive leader who people turn to, and who helps people manage the emotional and identity issues surrounding change in HE. Liaison Librarians at Reading have been asked to take on more LD work. Many staff lacked confidence, but Sonia reassured them and took a lead role in training colleagues in LD values and best-practice, as well as finding creative ways to work together.

Sonia is defined by her optimistic and positive attitude which was a steadying influence during the creation of the award-winning Study Smart pre-entry course. Study Smart is in its third year and has reached close to 8000 undergraduates. An indicative survey showed 94% of students who completed the course felt that their confidence had increased (Shahabudin, Hood and Reid, 2018).

Sonia’s EdD work on self-efficacy in academic writing builds the confidence of non-traditional students at Reading’s partner colleges. She has made a difference to many widening participation students, helping them to get the most out of HE learning. Sonia was awarded her EdD last year, further demonstrating her strong commitment to a scholarly approach and to professional development.

Sonia advocates inclusivity in HE through creating positive partnerships with students and staff. Many international students in Henley Business School felt excluded and disadvantaged by group assignments. Sonia worked closely with students to better understand their diverse experiences of group work. She is using her findings to help staff develop cultural awareness in all students embarking on group projects. Sonia also invited new Study Advice colleagues to collaborate on this research and mentored them in their first conference presentations.

Sonia also contributes to the LD community through her work on the ALDinHE Communications Coordination Group, and through co-organising events like the Regional Symposium on essay mills.

Sonia deserves the ALDinHE Award precisely because she would never think that what she does is ‘award-worthy’. She is exceptional because she raises people’s belief in themselves and their own abilities so that they can achieve in HE.


Shahabudin, K., Hood, S., and Reid, M. (2018). ‘Right time, right space? Developing an online transition course for new undergraduates’. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education Special Edition: 2018 ALDinHE Conference. Available online:

2020 Nominations

Caroline Crow, Newcastle University, nominated by Helen Webster, Newcastle University:

‘Working alongside students’ really encapsulates Caroline’s practice – she’s one of the most professional and committed LDers I’ve worked with, and she constantly challenges her own practice through reflection and scholarship. Two aspects particularly stand out: Her one to one practice epitomises a student-centred, emancipatory approach. What is particularly striking is that student feedback so clearly reflects her values, not just ‘she was helpful and nice’ but noting how her non-judgemental and person-centred practice makes each student feel they can be heard as individuals: “there was no judgement. I was able to be completely honest and it was incredibly helpful to just discuss my worries […] I was worried that the advice would be quite abstract but it was very tailored for me.” Even more striking is students’ appreciation for her empowering approach, not giving them simple tips but coaching them to come to their own answers: “‘all she did was ask great questions to prompt me to think more for myself, which was very empowering”. She also develops innovative practice in group teaching, having reformed our central programme from traditional lecture/workshop pedagogy which was generic, prescriptive and unengaging, to something genuinely student-centred and effective – in her ‘With the WDC’ workshops, students of all subjects and levels bring along what they’re currently working on and are scaffolded through progressing an aspect of it, with peer discussion. Instead of ‘take-home tips’ to apply later, students are able to experiment and apply them to their own current work, getting instant feedback and making progress as they go. It is a very situated approach, managing the difficult trick of tailoring a workshop for different levels and subjects.

She’s a very valued member of my team, and has been hugely supportive in mentoring new colleagues. I’m very privileged to work with her and have learned much from her myself.

Emma Tudhope, University of Sheffield nominated by Victoria Mann, University of Sheffield:

Emma has created a series of workshops to facilitate the development of academic skills including a brand new workshop on critical thinking that is delivered throughout the University of Sheffield and beyond. She created an engaging presentation and lesson plan together with an extensive set of bespoke resources, all supported by clear notes to allow the session to be effectively taught. The workshop provides a clear and accessible introduction to one of the most challenging aspects of student learning and offers opportunities for students to work in small groups to develop their higher-level analysis skills through in-session activities. One of the students who attended the session stated that, ‘from attending the Critical Thinking workshop I believe my understanding of the course content has increased dramatically. I find it much easier to critically analyse scientific literature after discussing what constitutes critical thinking during the workshop. This has been hugely beneficial to my studies, especially my coursework.’

Emma has also created an innovative procrastination programme; according to a recent survey, 85-95% of students have problems relating to procrastination. Despite this, here are very few procrastination resources available and it is an under researched topic. Emma’s work adds significantly to this field, combining psychological theory with practical measures to overcome this problem. Emma has created a procrastination workbook, in collaboration with an undergraduate student, and has created a procrastination workshop. In addition, she has developed a training programme and a webinar for staff to disseminate the resources further.  The resources created are being used to support students with SpLDs (specific learning difficulties) and as part of the staff training offered by the Specialist SpLD Tutorial Service here at the University.

Finally, Emma, in collaboration with Dr Sheena Bell, from the University of Nottingham, has written a chapter of a book to promote understanding of  SpLDs and English for academic purposes courses. This provides a vital resource to enable lecturers and teachers to have an insight into how to support international students with SpLDs, and provides teaching strategies and resources to underpin learning.

Rachel Stead, University of Surrey: Learning Development Teaching Fellow, Senior Fellow of HEA. Certified practitioner of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) nominated by Julie Lowe and Julia Anthoney, University of Surrey:

Rachel Stead: Learning Development Teaching Fellow, Senior Fellow of HEA. Certified practitioner of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP).

Instrumental in:

  • Working across all faculties, to introduce and explore concepts & practise of learning through play.
  • Incorporating LSP into:
    • ‘Open To All’ workshops including Literature Searching, Dissertations, Focus on Research for PGRs
    • Workshops for specific student cohorts, for example: students on the autistic spectrum to explore their academic related concerns
    • further developing the reach into faculties, working with academics
  • Working across the Health Sciences faculty with academics from Vet medicine, Paramedic Practise, Midwifery, and Nursing. Initiatives include workshops to enhance knowledge in areas such as resilience, independent learning, critical thinking, and reflective practise.
  • Carrying out collaborative research with colleagues and students. Specific example includes a student-staff partnership in Health Sciences, using LSP, resulting in the publication of book chapter Building Knowledge and Learning Communities Using LEGO® in Nursing (Stead et al, 2020.
  • Mentoring her co-workers in the development of workshops (for all UG, PGT and PGRs) which include LSP.


  • actively participates in a range of conferences, external and internal, to share her experiences of her learning development initiatives and students’ experiences of using LSP – including ALDinHE at Edinburgh, Leicester, and Exeter (where she co-presented with staff and students involved in a collaborative research project).
  • is one of the first foundation year, Learning Development teaching fellows at the University of Surrey, where she is implementing her knowledge and experiences of pedagogy within the curriculum and working collaboratively with other new foundation year LDers to develop innovative learning and teaching practises specifically aimed at foundation year students to aid their transition to UG study. Such is the success of her appointment in the role, she has been inducted to contributing to major curriculum redesign of the UG programmes into which the Nursing Foundation Year feeds.
  • actively participates in staff educational development programmes to engage staff with LSP.

Rachel works with all members of the team and here are just a few testimonials:  

“As someone new to the world of learning development, Rachel has offered me inspiration and support to try new things and explore different approaches when working with student nurses and paramedics. I feel her fantastic work with Lego Serious Play has encouraged the team to be more innovative in our approaches to learning development, and has given me particularly the confidence to use this approach to engage students”

“Rachel has inspired my practice and increased my confidence as a learning developer through her unfailing support and encouragement when creating actively engaging sessions particularly through the use of Lego Serious Play. Rachel’s valuable insights and extensive experience in both developing learners and encouraging active participation in sessions has resulted in a range of opportunities which critically engage staff and students with literature across a range of disciplines, all of which have received very positive feedback”

“Rachel is a fearless Learning Developer; tackling the topic of “reflection” with ‘hard’ scientists is potentially tough, but she has embraced the challenge by propagating her Lego Serious Play throughout the University of Surrey and striving forward with a fabulous research project that I am excited to be involved with.  Her dedication to enhancing the academic world of our students and staff members deserves huge recognition, and I continue to value her guidance as I navigate the world of learning development from the perspective of a ‘hard’ scientist!”

Endorsement from our Head of Learning Development:

“Rachel is a fabulous Learning Developer who ceaselessly embodies a ‘developing the developers’ ethic in ways that really inspire and engage others. She always puts careful thought into ensuring that her approach is appropriate for the given context: co-design and co-delivery of LSP sessions are variously mixed with other forms of engagement when working with staff across the institution: advocacy and consultancy, mentoring and coaching, peer observation. She has been an institutional trailblazer for LSP and I’m proud to have her as a member of our team.”

  • Robert Walsha

Stead, R., Dimitrova, R., Pourgoura, A., Roberts, S., and West, S. (2020) ‘Building Knowledge and Learning Communities Using LEGO® in Nursing’, in Gravett, K., Yakovchuk, N. and Kinchin, I. (eds) Enhancing Student-Centred Teaching in Higher Education. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 77-96.

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