PAPERS (25 minutes each)

11.30 – 11.55

12.05 – 12.30

The creation and deployment of a digital skills workbook: Giving students autonomy over their learning development

Kate Swinton and Helena Beeson

University of Northampton

We adapted an existing pre-enrolment MOOC which covered a range of academic skills and had been offered to all first year students. The decision was made to provide guidance on these skills at any stage of their course to follow their university journey, thus giving the opportunity to track progress and reflect. Core benefits over the existing MOOC included access at the point of need and the expansion of the online course from level 4 to all levels. We began by reviewing the platform and updating the content and exercises of the existing course, to ensure that it reflected the needs of our students.

After we obtained ethical approval we created a pilot for levels 4 and 7 students. Due to changes relating to COVID however, there was little engagement. We amended the pilot whereby students from different courses reviewed the workbook and attended focus groups to discuss their experiences. The feedback from these has been useful when adapting content and presentation further.

We are currently collaborating with course tutors in a discipline which has many non-traditional students. The workbook will be embedded across their modules from September 2022, balancing digital independent learning with our support. It has now been shared with all LD tutors who are taking ownership of individual units to finalise the resource. This paper will discuss how the workbook has evolved, the collaboration with academic tutors to target a skills gap in a particular discipline, and our longer-term plans to scale up the project.

Insights from a study on non-submission of assignments: How can students best be supported?

Samantha King, Alison Loddick, and Tim Curtis

University of Northampton

Non-submission of summative assignments has an impact on a significant minority of students but is not well understood (Prinsloo, 2019). At the University of Northampton, 70% of Integrated Foundation Year (IFY) students have a non-submission on their academic profile as they enter Level 4 and nearly 10% of all student assignments overall are not submitted (Coulson and Loddick, 2021). Students who fail to submit initially are offered a second submission point, but their grade is capped at 40%: data suggests that addressing this could close 50% of the GEM (Global Ethnic Majority) attainment gap.

A study was initiated in partnership with IFY academic staff to research into the experience and implications of non-submission of assignments for GEM and non-GEM students in IFY. The project aimed to understand the long-term implications in terms of academic outcomes through understanding why students fail to submit and how they recover from this. Data on student outcomes in recent years was interrogated and interviews were conducted with current and former IFY students who had failed to submit at least one assignment. These interviews were conducted by existing IFY students to encourage an open dialogue. Insights from this study will be reported, which will inform the practice of both Learning Developers and lecturers. If we can offer timely and appropriate support, we may be able to promote assignment submission, which in turn could improve student retention. This would allow more students to achieve their goals and contribute to a sustainable model of higher education.


Coulson, K. and Loddick, A. (2021) Non-submission of assessments – the impact on the BAME attainment gap. Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) Conference [Online], 7-9th April 2021. Prinsloo, P. (2019) Tracking (un) belonging: At the intersections of human-algorithmic student support. Pan-Commonwealth Forum, 9-12 September 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland

Leadership in Learning Development: Who and how

Carina Buckley

Solent University

Learning Development as a profession is predicated upon the values of collaboration and partnership, sharing practice and critical self-reflection. Working within this ethos, it can be difficult to recognise ourselves as leaders – particularly when the idea of leadership is often tied to line management, and promotion often results in movement out of learning development altogether. How, then, do we recognise leadership in learning development, much less embrace it for ourselves? In this session, I will outline the findings, derived from the LD community, of a small, qualitative research project into conceptions and perceptions of leadership in learning development. I will examine what leadership looks like and who can be a leader by exploring learning developers’ conceptions of professional identity and networking, and confidence in those areas. My aim will be to show delegates that the role of a leader has much in common with the values of learning development, making it open to anybody with a purpose, a goal, and values. In so doing I posit that this is connected to the theme of wellbeing, as if we feel recognised and valued for our work, then we are likely to be happier. I hope to demonstrate that all learning developers have the capacity to be recognised and valued for their leadership.

Students’ perceptions of blended and remote learning and its impact on the sense of belonging: a critical realist perspective

Alicja Syska and Christie Pritchard

University of Plymouth

The academic year 2020-21 saw significant changes not only in how learning in HE was delivered and received, but also in how students developed their sense of belonging. In order to determine this impact of the online pivot on students at our university, we conducted a small scale evaluative study on student perceptions of blended learning. The session will report on this study and consider how universities may change for the best in light of our collective experiences.

It is largely accepted in HE that blended learning affords exceptional opportunities to enhance student experience by making learning more accessible, more varied, and more inclusive. Our study confirmed this assessment – we found that even though blended learning as a concept was not seen favourably, the learning experience itself was perceived largely positively by students. The same was not true, however, when it came to their sense of belonging. The danger of increased student isolation (McNay, 1994) due to the perceived or real barriers to connecting with peers was very real, as were perceptions around limited opportunities to form casual friendships and simply being in the close presence of others (hooks, 1994). We conclude that monitoring and supporting students’ efforts to develop a sense of belonging is essential in order to ensure student satisfaction, performance and retention (Tinto, 2003; Thomas, 2012) and Learning Development has a role to play in this at a strategic level.

We will conclude the session asking participants to explore how Learning Development can work pan-institutionally to ensure these lessons are considered in future offerings.


Hooks, B. (1994) Teaching to Transgress. Routledge.

McNay, I. (1994) ‘The future student experience’, in Haselgrove, S. (ed.), The student experience. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education/ Open University Press, pp.169-179.

Thomas, L. (2012) ‘Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: final report from the What Works?’ Student Retention & Success programme. Available at: (Accessed: 24 August 2020). Tinto, V. (2003) ‘Learning better together: The impact of learning communities on student success’. Higher Education monograph series, 1(8), pp.1-8.

WORKSHOPS (60 minutes)

Learning Development 2030
Ed Bickle, Steph Allen and Marian Mayer
Bournemouth University

Whilst the widening participation agenda and the impact of COVID-19 has arguably increased the importance of learning development (LD) within the UK Higher Education Sector, it is widely acknowledged that the role, and indeed title, of the learning developer varies greatly between institutions. Some staff are employed on academic contracts with research requirements, others not. Similarly, some staff are faculty based whilst others are employed within a central team. This means that as Bickle et al. (2021) explain: LD operates in a ‘third space’. The disparity within the profession has meant that the role of the learning developer is multi-faceted, reflected in Hilsdon’s (2011, p.14) definition of LD:

Learning development is a complex set of multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary academic roles and functions, involving teaching, tutoring, research, and the design and production of learning materials […]”.

This workshop provides participants with an opportunity to untangle the complex LD web and map out ideas for the future of the LD profession. Acting as newspaper editors, participants will get out their crystal balls and produce a front page of a newspaper in 2030 where the main headline has been dedicated to the field of LD. Perhaps a LD staff member has won a prestigious award, maybe LD has received some form of international recognition. After presenting their front pages, participants will then engage in a discussion around how as a profession we can achieve some of these aspirations. Participants will take away ideas with them that they could apply to their own practice.


  • Bickle, E., Bishopp-Martin, S., Canton, U., Chin, P., Johnson, I., Kantcheva, R., Nodder, J., Rafferty, V., Sum, K., & Welton, K. 2021. Emerging from the third space chrysalis: Experiences in a non-hierarchical, collaborative research community of practice. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 18(7), 35-158.
  • Hilsdon, J., 2011. What is Learning Development? In: Hartley, P., Hilsdon, J., Keenan, C., Sinfield, S. and Verity, M. eds. Learning Development in Higher Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 13-27.

Session plan:

  • 5 min intro
  • 25 mins groups prepare their newspaper front pages (Flip chart paper and pens)
  • 15 mins groups present their front pages 15 mins group discussion about how the LD profession can work towards to achieving the ideas set out on the front pages.

Criticality in crisis?
Helen Beetham and Alina Congreve
University of Wolverhampton

Criticality, critical thinking, critique: these are often considered hallmarks of a university graduate. The first author has spent eighteen months interviewing academic teaching staff, and learning and academic developers, about criticality in higher education. This work has uncovered a diversity of beliefs and practices, but a widely agreed trajectory of student development, and four aspects of student support that are valued.

The workshop is an opportunity to explore these four aspects, inviting learning developers to share and discuss their own practices of supporting students. However, the research looks beyond current practice, asking whether criticality is ‘in crisis’ as new modes of knowledge practice gain currency, particularly digital modes of learning and research. The workshop will also provide an opportunity to query the supposed crisis in knowledge beyond the university, and its implication in other crises such as the climate crisis, human health crisis, and crises of democracy. How far can a ‘critical’ university education equip students to respond? What role do learning developers play, both in supporting individual students to be more resilient, and in helping academic staff and the curriculum more broadly provide robust support for criticality? Does ‘criticality’ really matter, or should educators focus on other qualities such as collaborative construction of knowledge, or learning for wellbeing?

The workshop will interest learning developers with experience in supporting criticality in individual and curriculum settings, and anyone interested to ask what ‘critical’ means and what role it plays in student learning.

Session plan:

  • 10 mins: Welcome. Overview of session. Critical thinking ice breaker. A common trajectory for critical development.
  • 8 mins: Introducing (with an example from the research): assignments as critical provocations; relationships of challenge and care; the role of learning media; discourse in the critical classroom.
  • 16 mins: Group work x 2. Participants choose one of four groups (as above), sharing how learning development practice helps develop students’ critical skills. Chance to move groups at midway point (each participant can work in up to two groups). Work is recorded digitally.
  • 12 mins: Feedback (3 mins per group). Reminder that the full outcomes will be shared digitally.
  • 10 mins: Facilitated group discussion. Is there a crisis in criticality at university? What role can a critical university education play in addressing the ‘knowledge crisis’ in our wider world? Other questions may be brought forward from the group sessions. 2 mins: Concluding comments and close.
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