PAPERS (25 minutes each)

13.30 – 13.55

14.05 – 14.30

Mix and match: Student choice in accessing digital or face-to-face academic skills Support

Oli Johnson

University of Sheffield

Given the choice, will students opt for a face-to-face or online learning session? 301 Academic Skills Centre at the University of Sheffield provides academic skills training (including study skills and maths and statistics support) to students in the form of workshops, 1:1 appointments and online resources. The transition to online learning during spring 2020 acted as a catalyst for us to develop our digital offer, which proved extremely popular with students studying remotely. As teaching has returned to the classroom we have been keen to retain some of the positive impacts of our online support and to continue to offer students a choice in how they access our extracurricular service. Throughout the 2021-22 academic year we have provided the option of attending 1:1 appointments and workshops either online or face-to-face, which has provided us with a dataset of student preferences. We have been surprised by the ongoing scale of demand for online training and support and student feedback on the service has provided us with an insight into the reasons behind this demand. In this session we will present data collected during the 2021-22 academic year to explore how and why some students may prefer an online learning alternative and how we intend to develop this delivery model in the future.

From History to Health: Learning to let go within and outside different disciplines

Matthew Mesley

University of Plymouth

In May 2020 I made the leap from part-time history academic and researcher to take up a Learning Developer (LD) post at the University of Plymouth. At Plymouth, only the Faculty of Health lacked an affiliated LD, and although I came from a humanities background, it made sense for me to fill this gap as a new member of the team without established links with other Faculties. However, I had a number of concerns: would I be able to understand Health assignments; would I be able to offer students guidance if I had little to no subject knowledge; would my Humanities background hinder rather than help when it came to offering support?

In this paper I want to explore a few of the ways I responded to becoming a LD within the Faculty of Health. This will in part focus on how I navigated working out where I could support students and in what context; it will also set out how I came to better appreciate how much the role went beyond academic writing. In particular, this meant acknowledging and normalising students’ anxieties and worries – and incorporating a pedagogy of kindness that was genuine, both within and outside the classroom. Throughout I learned that lacking subject knowledge was not a hindrance, and in many ways helped me to better connect with the students as I was able to distinguish where I could support them and where they would need to seek guidance from their lecturers. This is still a work in progress – an approach and a strategy for the future. Nevertheless, part of considering my own journey is to reflect more broadly on transitions. Often LD support focuses on transition, but should we think more about how we theorise our own transitions both into and within our Learning Development roles? Beyond this, I also want to think more about the often-disciplinary nature of LD. Should we be more ready to jump beyond or outside of our “specialisms”? What can we learn from supporting subjects that we might have little to no expertise? Is it useful to let go and can you let go more than once?!


Lightning Talks

Resource Showcase

Finding the balance: the positives and negatives of moving Peer Mentor Training online

Jenny Stowar

London School of Economics

The Student Academic Mentor (SAM) programme at the London School of Economics has only been in place for five years, and in that time it has rapidly grown in scope and numbers. With the pandemic, training of the largely international cohort of undergraduates moved online and in-person training was removed. This continued in 2020/21. The result is a trained cohort, but a disconnection between the student volunteer and the programme co-ordinator. In a Learning Development context, with the new landscape of HE emphasising hybridity, where do we find the balance between practical necessity and losing our personal touch with students?

Level up your academic skills

Matthew Martin

University of Sheffield

Developing mechanisms to support students whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic, particularly those transitioning to HE and between levels of study is key. 301 Academic Skills Centre has developed a series of transition resources called Level Up Your Academic Skills. These are a blend of asynchronous and synchronous activities, with face-to-face and online options, tailored for different levels of study. Each course is curated to provide a guided series of resources and activities relevant to that stage of a student’s course; is designed to be used both independently; and integrated into departmental/course level induction and transition programmes.

Online/Hybrid/Face-2-Face workshop: You decide…

Jenny Freeman, Peter Hart, and Hope Thackray

University of Sheffield

The at-pace transition to online delivery at the start of the pandemic, and the subsequent move to hybrid teaching has afforded staff within HE institutions the opportunity to explore different modes of delivery for the same workshops, including synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Offering students the choice of which mode has enabled us to examine what different types of learners want in terms of mode and the relative merits of each mode. We will detail lessons learned and guidance on how to approach workshop delivery to ensure students receive a quality learning experience, tailored to each specific mode of delivery.

Disrupting the Sage on the Stage

Anne-Marie Langford

University of Northampton

“60-second skills” are bitesize audio-visual explorations of student questions about academic skills, created and distributed collaboratively with our Student Peer Mentors. This talk explores the creation and sharing of resources via social media as a way of challenging the authoritative nature of traditional academic skills content ( Price et. al, 2017; Gordon, K and Melrose, S, 2011). The project amplifies student voices through the multi-channel media assets connecting with students where they are digitally and physically. The talk also explores the use of analytics to track engagement and discusses focus group findings relating to the impact on student learning ownership.

Stephen Price, Kathryn Wallace, Elena Verezub & Elena Sinchenko (2019) Student learning assistants: the journey from learning advice to creating community, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43:7, 914-928, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2018.1425379

Gordon, K. & Melrose, S. (2011). Peer E-Mentoring Podcasts in a Self-Paced Course. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 15(3), 145-149 Available from: [Accessed 14/01/2022]

WORKSHOP (60 minutes)

Innovative approaches to sustainability skills development: a crowd-sourcing workshop

Iain Cross and Alina Congreve

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

There is currently significant interest in how students are taught about climate change in higher education. Students in subjects from law and chemistry to fashion and business are looking at climate risks, how to deal with uncertainty and the need for more systemic approaches. The work of learning developers has arguably tended to prioritise ‘traditional’ academic skills (such as academic writing, referencing, information searching and numeracy). However, there is a growing expectation from students, government and employers that graduates develop a range of advanced skills, such as project management, data visualisation and problem solving. These skills will help students actively contribute to building a more sustainable and equitable future. This challenges learning developers to find new and innovative ways to support students’ learning as they acquire these high level skills.

The aim of this interactive workshop is for participants to be empowered to engage with these changes in their own institutions, and develop new approaches to learning development that support education for sustainability. It comprises a series of mini-presentations of case-studies derived from original research into teaching climate change including 35 in-depth interviews. The workshop draws on the presenters’ research to crowdsource solutions from the learning developer community to key challenges. How can we foster creativity, innovation and systemic thinking in graduates? How can advanced skills for sustainability be scaffolded in the university curriculum? The workshop is designed to be of interest to learning developers with experience in supporting education for sustainability, and those new to the topic.

Session plan:

0 – 10 mins: Welcome and Introduction. We will introduce ourselves, provide an overview of the session and explain to participants the intended take-away messages for them. The introduction will emphasise the interactive nature of the session to encourage all to participate with the activities.

10 – 12 mins: Case study 1: Teaching climate change in diverse disciplines. This case study will explore some key examples drawn from our research. We will briefly examine some of the diverse disciplines which are including climate change as part of their curriculum to illustrate the diversity of approaches across different degree programmes and in contrasting institutions.

12 – 25 mins: Activity 1: Inclusively engaging students in developing sustainability skills. Participants will reflect on the previous case study to identify how learning developers can support the development of students’ high-level skills to engage in the sustainability and climate change debate and be effective change agents, regardless of their disciplinary setting. Participants will work in groups on a chosen skill (e.g. public communication, project management, problem solving) and consider learning activities that develop that skill across a range of disciplines. Participants will take away a broad range of approaches to high-level skills development.

25 – 27 mins: Case Study 2: Scaffolding sustainability skills. Our research has shown that scaffolding higher-level skills throughout degrees is vital to ensure students are well-prepared for working with external stakeholders. We will illustrate this through sharing examples of a partnership approach involving a real-world, work-based assessment, and some of the problems caused by a lack of scaffolding, we have identified in our research.

27 – 40 mins: Activity 2: Scaffolding skills to engage with external partners. In this activity, participants explore how the learning activities they designed in the first activity can be embedded across different levels of study. They will focus on applying the principle of scaffolding, by exploring how much, and what type, of support is required in the early stages of a degree and how this can be gradually reduced as students progress through their studies. This will highlight the importance of a joined-up approach to curriculum development and provide participants with ideas for how to embedding sustainability skills across a degree programme.

40 – 55 minutes: Facilitated feedback and discussion. All groups will be asked to summarise their group discussions, which we will collate and share with participants after the session. This will also the form the basis of a JLDHE paper and #Take5 blog article. Participants will be facilitated to engage in a ‘what next?’ conversation, to identify mutual areas of interest among the group and to consider how to take forward the thinking in the session to be of wider benefit to the learning development community. Participants will be invited to submit questions and topics relating to learning developers, sustainability and climate change teaching that will enable us to produce a paper and blog article that is relevant and of wide interest to ALDinHE and the learning developer community. We hope these will form the basis of growing interest from learning developers in supporting their institutions respond to the climate crisis and sustainability debate. 55 – 60 minutes: Concluding comments.

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