Funded Projects 2021-2022

Student led online symposium on culture driven business responses to Covid-19 in Global North and South

Dr Xianghan (Christine) O’Dea – York St John University

Co-investigator Xue Zhou – Queen Mary University of London


The importance of developing university students to become global ready graduates has been well documented. One of the most important competencies, as identified in existing research, is cultural sensitivity, or cross-cultural awareness. In other words, students need to build a sense of belonging in a more culturally diverse community and to build connections with others from different cultural backgrounds. 

Guided by the theory of active learning and constructivism, this project aims to improve the involvement and peer collaboration of students of all ages and backgrounds in designing, leading and managing a more value added learning activity. In addition, it is aimed at helping students to develop a wide range of global competences and transferable skills, such as team working, problem solving, critical and comparative thinking, project management, and also digital literacy. 

The student led online symposium, titled “culture driven business responses to Covid-19 in Global North and South” is a collaboration between the undergraduate communities in two higher education institutions in England – University A and University B.

The feedback of students involved in organizing, managing and presenting in the symposium will be collected using mixed methods, such as questionnaires, interviews, focus groups and self-reflections. The research findings will be disseminated with wider academic communities internally and externally through means of conference presentations, seminars and academic blogs.

If the symposium proves to be successful, it will be expanded to include postgraduate students in both business schools, and also students from other academic departments in both institutions. 



Training and supporting university students to become global citizens is considered “value added”, and thus high on university agendas globally. This is not only because many of them are likely to become future entrepreneurs, or management professionals in global business, but also because universities in the UK are naturally diverse communities, and house students of different cultures, ages, gender and religious beliefs. Among all global competencies that students are expected to develop, cultural sensitivity, or cross-cultural awareness appears to be particularly crucial for working effectively with different cultures in the global workplace (PISA, 2018). 

In order to develop students’ “culture agility” (internationalization at home, 2021), we (the academic tutors) have developed a culturally responsive curriculum and adopted the associated teaching approaches in both business schools (University A and B). This includes the design and implementation of culturally responsive assessment; inviting international guest speakers; and focusing on the international reach of the subject area through the use of international business case studies. 

Whilst the design and approaches mentioned above appear to be well received by students, they are predominately tutor initiated, and are carried out at module or programme level. With the intention to increase the involvement of students of all ages and backgrounds in designing, leading and managing a more value added learning activity, to strengthen their cross-cultural awareness, as well as to encourage cross institutional collaboration between students, we are planning to start a pilot project, namely a student led, tutor facilitated, online symposium on culture driven business responses to Covid-19 in Global North and South. 

About the symposium

The symposium focuses on the following two areas: equality, diversity and inclusion and sustainability in learning development and higher education. The main aim of the symposium, in addition to those mentioned above, is to help undergraduate students to develop other global competences and transferable skills, such as team working, problem solving, critical and comparative thinking, project management, and also digital literacy, so that they are better prepared for their future careers. 

The theoretical foundation of the project is active learning and constructivism learning (Dewey, 1923; Bonwell & Eison,1991). Both theories emphasize the importance of students’ active involvement in constructing knowledge and meaningful understanding for themselves. 

The selected theme of the symposium aims at not only enhancing students’ understanding on culture sensitivity within the global business environment (Global North and South), but also helping students to understand organizational change management, in particular, how businesses react to sudden and unexpected changes, such as the digital disruption, national and localized lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic (Kowarski, 2017). 

If the symposium proves to be successful, we will extend the approach to include postgraduate students, and students from other subject areas. Additionally, we plan to involve more businesses to join the presentation selection panel or to act as keynote speakers. Therefore, this project has the potential for long term effects on supporting university students to become global citizens and creating sustainable competitive advantage in future job market.

We chose University A and University B because they are contrasting in a number of ways. For example, one is large, one is small; one is a Russell group university, one is a post-92 university; one is in the North, one is in the South; One has predominately local students, whilst the other one has much more international students. Therefore, by selecting these two universities, we intent to assess whether the students in these two universities can learn off each other. 

Research design

The main question this project seeks to answer is “whether and to what extent does the online symposium help undergraduate students develop cross cultural awareness”? 

This one-day symposium will be hosted in Microsoft Teams, and contains three parts:

  • A key note speech – an expert from industry – this will be arranged by the Symposium organization panel 
  • 8 individual presentations – the presentations need to focus on a business/businesses within a particular culture – the top three presentations selected by delegates will be awarded (Amazon Vouchers). 
  • 3 groups of round table discussions – each discussion contains 6 members
  • A quiz – the quiz contains 25-30 questions, and will be open to all delegates. Delegates will be able to answer the questions via Kahoot. The top three scores on the leaderboard will be awarded. (Amazon Vouchers).

Students who present in the symposium (presentations and round table discussions) will be given a certificate/badge, issued by University A. The presentations and round table discussions will be video recorded and shared with all students in both universities. 

Apart from presenting in the symposium, students can take up one of the following roles (see the table below). These roles will be advertised publically to students in both institutions. 

Students’ non-presenter involvement:

RolesNumber of students involved
Symposium organization panel6
Presentation selection panel – double blind peer review24 (3 reviewers for each presentation)
Quiz creation team 6
Social media promotion, and conference recording 6
Chairs for the presentations2
Chairs for the round table discussions3


The feedback of students on the effectiveness of the symposium will be collected using mixed methods: 

  • All delegates will be asked to complete a questionnaire, which contains a combination of open and closed questions. The questionnaire will be distributed via email.  
  • Students who deliver presentations in the symposium will be invited to attend one to one interviews with the project lead and collaborator. 
  • Students who attend round table discussions will be invited to attend focus groups to give their opinions and suggestions. 
  • Students who take up a non-presenter role will also be asked to produce a self-reflection on their experience. 

Dissemination routes


The research findings, including the impact of the symposium on the development of students’ cross cultural awareness, and the lessons and the experiences gained, as well as recommendations will be shared at the respective University learning and teaching conferences, and teaching practices workshops at both institutions. 

The self-reflections of the project lead and collaborator will be shared with the academic colleagues at both institutions via the University learning and teaching blog. 


A report produced jointly by staff and students involved in the project will be disseminated to the wider academic community through academic conferences and seminars, such as ALDinHE conference, and LD@3 session. The associated case study/report will be submitted to the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. 

Ethics consideration

We will gain full ethics approval from both institutions before collecting data.  


Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. AEHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.1. ED340272. Washington, DC: Jossey-Bass.

Dewey, J., 1923. Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. macmillan.

Universities UK International. (2021). Internationalizations at home – developing global citizenship without travel. Available at: [Accessed: 20th July 2021].

PISA. (2018). Preparing our youth for an inclusive and sustainable world. Available at : [Accessed: 20th July 2021].

Final report

For more information about the project, please contact Dr Xianghan (Christine) O’Dea

Understanding student preferences for one to one writing appointments post-pandemic.

Bryony Parsons – University of Liverpool


The Writing Support scheme at the University is a near-peer service, which provides students with the opportunity to book one to one appointments with an academic writing tutor. All Writing Support tutors are currently studying for their PhD and offer support to students with planning assignments, being critical, structuring their writing, understanding tutor feedback and referencing. 

When launched in 2019, this service was popular, with 626 appointments being attended in semester one. These appointments all took place face to face, in study rooms in the university library. When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, the service moved online, with appointments taking place over Microsoft Teams. However, with this, we noticed a significant drop in appointments, with only 292 being booked in the same time period in 2020, despite attendee numbers at our Library online webinars increasing significantly from our face to face workshop figures the previous year. 

This study will explore students’ preferences in relation to one to one writing appointments, with the aim of discovering how students would like these to be delivered in future, when both online and face to face meetings are a possibility, and their reasons for their preferences. We will disseminate a short online survey, with the objective of reaching as many students as possible from different faculties and levels of study across the university. We will then analyse the feedback provided to shape our future delivery of Writing Support appointments. 


The Writing Support scheme launched in the Library in 2019, although it had previously existed on a much smaller scale within the Faculty of Humanities. It is a near-peer service, and all the writing tutors are currently studying for their PhD at the university. Students can book an appointment using the online booking system, and although we don’t have tutors representing every school at the university, we are clear that any tutor can provide helpful advice on planning assignments, being critical, structuring writing, understanding feedback and referencing. In the first semester of 2019-20, the service was popular, with 626 appointments being attended. These appointments all took place face to face, in study rooms in the university library.

When Covid-19 arrived in March 2020, the service moved online, and appointments took place over Microsoft Teams. We noticed a significant drop in appointment bookings, with only 292 appointments being booked in semester one of 2020-21. This contradicted with our online webinar bookings, which increased significantly from our face-to face workshop figures the previous year. Although there may be a wide variety of reasons for a lack of engagement in the one to one element of our offer, we are keen to ensure students can access support in a way which suits them, and not just assume their preferences (or reasons for these preferences) as life returns to some form of normality. 

Literature on student preferences and perspectives post-pandemic is currently quite limited. There are several pieces which discuss the issues students have faced through being forced to learn online, with Raaper and Brown (2020) describing the negative impacts the past 18 months have had on mental wellbeing and study motivation and Lederer (2020) stating that students have been less likely to feel a sense of belonging to their institution when learning remotely. There are also several articles which discuss the issues new students may face in transitioning into university. Pownall et al. (2021) states that students may struggle to ‘reacclimatise’ to academic life due to the gaps in their education and lack of formal assessment. It has been suggested that those from disadvantaged backgrounds will be hit the hardest and will ‘suffer from prolonged absence from more traditional support’ (Universities UK, 2020, p.4).  

Academic skills providers and learning developers will have a key role to play in helping students overcome their worries around studying at this higher level, and allowing them to feel more confident in their abilities and overcome any imposter syndrome they may be experiencing (Raaper and Brown, 2020). Previous studies have shown that peer to peer and near-peer schemes can aid transition and allow students to feel more integrated and supported (Yomtov et al., 2017), and Pownall et al. (2021) states that these schemes can allow students to inquire about the norms of learning at university level ‘without judgement’.

As restriction are easing, and students return to campus, we wish to develop the Writing Support service in a way in which the maximum number of students feel comfortable with engaging with it, whether that be face to face, online, or more of a hybrid offer. To achieve this, it is essential to gather as many perspectives from as wide a range of students as possible. We will aim to survey students from a variety of subject areas and levels of study, to allow us to get an overall picture of what students prefer and why, rather than focusing in detail on the views of only a select few students in focus groups. To do this, we would like to offer an incentive of being entered into a draw to win an iPad to anyone who completes the survey during October-November, and also plan to run a promotional stand in the Guild of Students, offering slices of pizza in return for a completed survey. The survey will consist of questions asking students for their preferences for online/face to face/hybrid appointments, and will ask them to briefly give any reasons for this preference. The survey will be promoted on social media, on the student intranet, via the VLE and during any sessions or appointments delivered during this period. It is hoped that by sharing the survey online, and having a physical presence at the Guild of Students, that both students with and without access to appropriate technology/wi-fi will complete the survey. 

Once our research is complete, we would aim to share our findings with the wider LD community, allowing them access to the insights we have received via submitting to the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, or presenting at future ALDinHE events. Ethical approval to gather student feedback, and note year of study and School/Faculty has already been obtained. No personal, or identifiable information will be recorded, and participant information sheets will be provided online and as print outs. Email addresses submitted by students who wish to enter the draw will only be stored until a winner is drawn at random, and will be password protected (accessed only by the named applicants on this form, and manager).


Lederer, A. M., Hoban, M. T., Lipson, S. K., Zhou, S., & Eisenberg, D. (2020). ‘More than 

inconvenienced: the unique needs of US college students during the CoViD-19 

pandemic’. Health Education & Behavior, 48(1), pp.14-19.  doi: 10.1177/1090198120969372

Pownall, M., Harris, R. and Blundell-Birtill, P. (2021) ‘Supporting students during the transition to university in COVID-19: 5 key considerations and recommendations for educators’, PsyArXiv Preprints. doi: 10.31234/

Raaper, R. and Brown, C. (2020) ‘The Covid-19 pandemic and the dissolution of the university 

campus: implications for student support practice’, Journal of Professional Capital and 

Community, 5(3/4) pp.343-349. doi: 10.1108/JPCC-06-2020-0032

Universities, U.K. (2020) Achieving stability in the higher education sector following COVID-19. Available at: (Accessed 1st July 2021).

Yomtov, D., Plunkett, S., Efrat, R., & Marin, A. (2017). ‘Can peer mentors improve first-year 

experiences of university students?’ Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory 

& Practice, 19(1), pp.25-44. doi: 10.1177/1521025115611398

Read the research project.

For more information about the project, please contact Bryony Parsons

Hidden Histories – A student-staff partnership to diversify the narrative in an integrated Science Foundation Year curriculum

Ellie Davison – University of Lincoln


The interdisciplinary University of Lincoln Science Foundation Year aims to diversify and decentre its curriculum by reframing topics through the perspectives and contributions of under-celebrated thinkers from marginalised backgrounds.  A collaborative student-staff partnership will be initiated to support student researcher developers (SRDs) to uncover ‘hidden histories’ within the fields of science and mathematics and produce interactive learning activities to embed diverse narratives and approaches into the curriculum.  The impact of the project upon the student learners, and the SRD’s research and pedagogical skill development, will be evaluated.  The outcomes will be disseminated through student-staff co-authored conference presentations and journal papers, along with inclusion in institution-wide initiatives to produce ‘toolkits’ for promotion of EDI in teaching and assessment.


The University of Lincoln recognises the need to ‘rethink, reframe and reconstruct the current curriculum to make it more inclusive’ (University of Lincoln, 2021) and acknowledges that overlooked narratives of scholars with diverse gender, sexuality, ethnicity, dis/ability and cultural backgrounds may exclude underrepresented groups from identifying with teaching resources and activities.  Furthermore, student cohorts worldwide have expressed their wish for curricula to be diversified and decentred, to bring into focus perspectives and contributions of thinkers from marginalised backgrounds (Keele Student Union, 2018; Lawrence, 2020).

Pilot Study

During the 20-21 academic year, a small pilot project was initiated to highlight ‘hidden histories’ of scholars of relevance to a foundation mathematics curriculum.  ‘In the Spotlight’ seminar starters were produced to introduce topics through the stories of under-celebrated contributors to the field. Following an introductory discussion, active learning pedagogies were utilised to produce seminar tasks and activities that facilitated a deeper level of student engagement (Misseyanni, 2018) with the perspectives and achievements introduced.  Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive [“It’s interesting to hear the back story of someone who was erased…I like how it leads on to the work we’re about to do…making it more enjoyable and also more memorable”]and it was requested that this endeavour be extended to the wider foundation curriculum and beyond.


The University of Lincoln Science Foundation Year (SFY), within which the pilot study was conducted, provides an alternative route into five Schools within the College of Science: Life Sciences, Pharmacy, Engineering, Chemistry and Mathematics & Physics (Hopkins and Davison, 2019).  SFY is thus well placed to be able to extend the pilot study across a range of further disciplines. Furthermore, the SFY cohort consists of students from a wide range of backgrounds; for example, the proportion of BAME students in the SFY cohort is approximately three times the proportion in the overall University cohort (Office for Students, 2021).  Ensuring that pedagogies, resources and voices within the SFY curriculum are diverse is a department priority.  

As students at the centre of decolonising the curriculum discourse have stated their wish to be critical and active participants in the production of knowledge (Lawrence, 2020), the SFY 

team would like to support students to extend and develop the ‘Hidden Histories’ pilot.  The University of Lincoln is highly regarded for its ‘student as producer’ ethos (Neary, 2020), with undergraduates encouraged to work alongside staff in the design and delivery of programmes.  Such learning development partnerships have been demonstrated to increase students’ motivation, and their understanding of, and responsibility for, their learning processes (Werder, Thibou and Kaufer, 2012).  Furthermore, through co-creation of inclusive learning experiences, students develop a range of graduate attributes, such as digital, leadership, teaching and project management skills, equipping them for employment in a global workplace (Bovill et al., 2016).

The Project


  • To develop a staff-student partnership within which staff will support students to enhance their understanding of learning development through:
    • supported academic research into hidden histories of undercelebrated scholars
    • student-led development of the SFY curriculum to broaden the contexts and viewpoints within which learning is presented
    • co-creation of interactive learning activities for teaching sessions and development of pedagogical knowledge 
    • co-authorship of conference presentations and academic journal papers
  • To encourage students in the SFY cohort from all backgrounds to achieve their potential through seeing themselves represented in the curriculum, fostering a sense of belonging within the academic community
  • To evaluate any impact upon students’ learning development, both for students within the SFY cohort and those developing the curriculum and producing the activities.

Through a collaborative staff-student project, the pilot study will be broadened to illuminate hidden figures across the scientific and mathematical disciplines encompassed by the Science Foundation Year.  Students will be recruited from across the college, to become student researcher developers (SRDs) and conduct investigative research, supported by academic subject librarians working on the decolonisation at Lincoln toolkit (University of Lincoln, 2021).  The SRDs will then work in partnership with SFY academics to produce interactive learning activities which embed the uncovered contributions and perspectives into teaching sessions, which will be delivered to the 21-22 SFY cohort.

The intended output from the project is eight ‘Hidden History: In the Spotlight’ seminar starters with associated learning activities, relevant to subject areas across the SFY disciplines. It is expected that each ‘In the Spotlight’ will require, on average, between 6.5 and 7 hours work to produce. A remuneration fee of £62.50 per ‘In the Spotlight’ will be provided, totalling £500 for the entire project. This is equivalent to a competitive payment rate of approximately £9.00 per hour. It is expected that two SRDs will be appointed to complete the project, but if there are a greater number of suitable applicants, the task will be further distributed.

The impact of the initiative on both the SFY cohort and the SRDs will be evaluated.  An anonymous online questionnaire will be utilised to gather feedback from the cohort on the learning activities they participated in during sessions, and semi-structured feedback interviews will be held to evaluate the project from the perspective of the SRDs.  Before the project commences, a favourable ethical opinion will be sought from the University of Lincoln research governance and ethics committee. 


The project and its impact will be shared with the Lincoln Equality of Attainment Project (LEAP) with a view to inclusion in their ‘toolkit for student success’, which provides resources and activities to facilitate the institution-wide application and promotion of EDI in teaching and assessment.  Furthermore, as the academic project leads from SFY are also members of the college teaching and learning directors’ group, any positive outcomes will be used to encourage the extension of the approach into additional subject areas.

Co-authorship is an often overlooked facet of staff-student collaborations (Mercer-Mapstone et al., 2017). To address this, dissemination of findings to the broader community will take place through a presentation at the ALDinHE annual conference and an article for the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, both co-authored with the SRDs.  Furthermore, as the national RAISE network (Researching, Advancing, and Inspiring Student Engagement) conference is scheduled to be held at the University of Lincoln in Autumn 2022, the SRDs will be supported to submit a contribution to present the student-staff partnership. 


Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., Felten, P., Millard, L., and Moore-Cherry, N. (2016) Addressing potential challenges in co-creating learning and teaching: overcoming resistance, navigating institutional norms and ensuring inclusivity in student-staff partnerships. Higher Education, 71(2) 195–208.

Hopkins, J. and Davison, E. (2019) CATE 2019: Integrated foundation years – a success story for Lincoln University [blog].  3 October. Advance HE.

Keele Student Union (2018) Why is my curriculum so white? Journal of Global Faultlines, 5(1-2) 100-101.

Lawrence, M. (2020) Decolonising the curriculum: students’ perspectives.  African Education Review, 17(2) 88-103.

Mercer-Mapstone, L., Sam L. D., Kelly E. M., Sofia A., Breagh C., Peter F., and Kelly S. (2017) A systematic literature review of students as partners in higher education. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(2) 1-23.

Misseyanni, A., Miltiadis, D., Lytras, P.P. and Marouli, C. (2018) Active learning strategies in higher education: Teaching for leadership, innovation and creativity. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.

Neary, M. (2020) Student as producer: how do revolutionary teachers teach? Winchester: Zero Books.

Office for Students (2021) Access and participation data dashboard.  London: Office for Students. Available from [accessed 13 July 2021].

University of Lincoln (2021) Decolonality and decolonisation at Lincoln: Library toolkit. Lincoln: University of Lincoln. Available from [accessed 13 July 2021].

Werder, C., Thibou, S. and Kaufer, B. (2012) Students as co-inquirers: A requisite theory in educational development. Journal of Faculty Development, 26(3) 34-38.

Final report

For more information about the project, please contact Ellie Davison

Manual notetaking and its effect on increasing student engagement and knowledge retention

Ellen Spender – Swansea University


Over the past 30 years there has been in increasing reliance on technology for university students, and there is a place for it, this has been proven during the current pandemic and the swift move to online learning.  

The aim of our project is to conduct a study into 2 methods of notetaking:  (1) using materials such as notebooks and highlighters and (2) using technology such as iPads and laptops, and their use in knowledge retention.  The group of students in the study will be split into 2 groups during a session with one group of students making notes with traditional note taking materials and the other group will use technology using IT equipment such as iPads or laptops to make notes.   After a short break all students will sit a test and the results of their knowledge retention will be measured.  The test will be replicated with a new group of students for a second session

The study will take place at the commencement of the academic year and students will benefit not only from using 2 different types of studying techniques but also from social interaction and to refresh their classroom skills after an 18-month break from face-to-face teaching.

Our experience and good practice can be shared with colleagues and the wider academic environment to that they may be able to implement the findings in their own practice.  This is an innovative approach as it is a real-life study, dynamic and fluid.


In 30 years, technology has advanced at an exponential rate, from a time when students and lecturers were mainly reliant on active attendance at lectures to gain knowledge to the reliance today on technology. For our project, our group is requesting funding to purchase materials to experiment with our MSc courses.

Our intention is to explore the use of manual notetaking compared with electronic notetaking.  We intend to create a Focus Group of students to assess their knowledge retention from using both methods to make notes from an unfamiliar subject.  Students will be split into two groups during a session, one will work in groups with traditional note taking materials and the other will use digital devices such as iPads or laptops to make notes.

The grant will be used to purchase materials for students to use to make handwritten notes. This will include items such as large post-it easel pads for use with groupwork brainstorming sessions and small post-it notes for students to use to jot relevant points on and pass notes between each other with ease, various highlighters in different colours to collate thoughts in categories and also index cards for both individual and collaborative work.

The rationale behind the project is to measure student knowledge retention by using both methods.  The two groups of students will be made up of five students per group and will listen to a lecture on an unfamiliar subject.  One group will be provided with the resources to make handwritten notes whilst the other group will use technology for their notetaking.  After a short break all students will sit the same test and the results will be measured.

For the second part of the session the notetaking methods will be switched.  Another presentation on an unfamiliar topic will be delivered to the entire group.  This time the group making handwritten notes during the first session will have access to technology and the group using technology will use the materials to make handwritten notes.  After a short break all students will sit another test and the results again will be measured.  The test will be replicated with a new group of students for a second session.

We believe it is important to revisit traditional teaching methods using predominantly paper and pen resources as the value of these types of materials on student engagement has been reported in earlier studies.  Skipka (2011) informs that not all student notes are made using computers and other forms of media.  As a result of the rapid overnight move to off campus teaching to video teaching we have found that this has caused student learning fatigue.  Our hope is that our findings from using these materials in our teaching will help others both in our department and the wider education environment to encourage more active learning and student engagement.  In particular, we see this as a necessity after a year of off-campus, on-line learning.

The result of this innovative yet return to basic materials could impact our students for future years.  Based on the existing research evidence we have no grounds to make bold recommendations for or against laptop note-taking. A recent paper by Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson highlights this point.  Our study aims to compare groups of students regarding the substitution, in recent years, of using technology as a replacement for the tangible pen and paper for of student notetaking and subsequent engagement.  Our intention is also to explore how written note taking can be incorporated into our teaching and student learning.  The study will take place at the commencement of teaching and students will benefit from using 2 different types of studying techniques.

We would also use part of the grant to fund a current MSc student to lead the Focus Group in order to encourage participation from fellow students.

The findings from this study will give colleagues the opportunity to view the results of two distinct methods of notetaking and their effect on knowledge retention.  We are aware that they are two different paths to knowledge retention strategies, this study will provide students with an alternative and not a replacement for technology in their studies.  We aim to find if there is still the need for traditional notetaking methods in the blended learning and teaching environment and possible a more enhanced experience for students.  

The study is intended for all higher education professionals.  The aim is to share experiences, research and good practice.  It is intended for use as one of a number of pedagogies currently being used to enhance the student experience.  In addition, we believe that this will increase student satisfaction and a sense of belonging by being involved, on campus, with fellow students and a chance to make connections and build networks.

Each member of the project group will use several tangible methods of note taking in their Focus Group.  The project members will then group together to discuss our findings and intend to write an article for a pedagogical journal.

We request a grant from ALDin HE to fund these supplies so we can practice the literature on using kinetic tools with our students.


Shipka, J. (2011) Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh:  University of Pittsburgh Press.

Morehead, K., Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2019) How much mightier is the pen than the keyboard for note-taking? A replication and extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). Educational Psychology Review, 1-28.

Final report

For more information about the project, please contact Ellen Spender –

Decolonising the HE STEM Curriculum: Increasing the visibility of ethnic minority contributors to STEM

Dr Jessica Bownes – The University of Glasgow


Ethnic minority people are woefully underrepresented in undergraduate STEM degrees (HESA, 2021). This underrepresentation becomes greater in post-graduate courses and professional academia (HESA, 2021), therefore, decolonizing the STEM curriculum is directly connected to increasing the academic success of ethnic minority students. Recent research shows that ethnic minority students are more engaged and successful when they see role models that they relate to within the curriculum (Schwartz, 2018). This project aims to make ethnic minority people who were key contributors to STEM more visible through the production of a resource that can both be embedded in the curriculum and used as a standalone tool to raise awareness of these important scientists.

The resource will comprise a repository of visual and text-based information about key ethnic minority figures in STEM. We will identify a number of role models for the initial showcase and collate their personal and professional information so that students can better understand the people behind many extraordinary scientific discoveries. This resource will be available to UK HEIs as a searchable and extractable database that can be used within class resources such as lecture slides and supplementary online material. The information will also be formatted in such a way that each entry can be printed and used as a poster in a series that will be displayed in STEM buildings around campus, thus increasing the visibility of ethnic minority role models within the HE STEM learning environment and, additionally, stimulating further conversation about how we can continue to decolonize the STEM curriculum.


The following proposal will demonstrate the aims, objectives and outcomes of the project, Decolonising the HE STEM Curriculum: Increasing the visibility of ethnic minority contributors to STEM, and demonstrates how the proposed work fulfills the eight criteria (a – h) for ALDinHE funding.

Research problem, scope and context (criteria e and f)

In UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in 2019/20, Black, Asian and Chinese students accounted for 21% of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) student population (HESA, 2021a). In the same academic year, Black, Asian and Chinese academics accounted for 12% of all university lecturers and 6% of senior academics (HESA, 2021b). These figures demonstrate an ethnic imbalance in academia which must be addressed through decolonizing the STEM curriculum to encourage greater equality and diversity in UK HEIs.

Recent work has demonstrated that academics in STEM are aware of the need to decolonize their curriculum, but they are less sure of the path to decolonization because STEM is traditionally thought of as being objective and not human-centric (Fernandes, 2021). The proposed work builds on Dr Charlene Schwartz’s theses on decolonizing the curriculum, and particularly explores the application of the idea that ‘decolonised education should start with the biographies and histories of who teaches and who is taught and who is being taught (Schwartz, 2018).

Aims (criteria a,d and h)

The proposed project aims to:

  • Increase the engagement of ethnic minority STEM students with their degree courses.
  • Inspire and motivate ethnic minority STEM students to pursue post-graduate STEM qualifications and careers.
  • Provide ethnic minority students with access to information about STEM role models that they can relate to.
  • Increase the understanding of all STEM students of the contributions that ethnic minority scientists have made to their field of study.
  • Encourage the collaboration of STEM academics in making their courses inclusive.

Objectives (criteria a,c and d)

The aims of the project will be achieved by:

  • Employing a research assistant who is an undergraduate STEM student from an ethnic minority to bring lived experience to the work.
  • Identifying 10-15 ethnic minority individuals who made a significant contribution to science, but who are not necessarily widely known or attributed to their work.
  • Compile photos and text-based information which comprises personal information on their backgrounds, upbringing, education and other notable experiences, as well as information about their career, accolades and contributions to STEM.
  • Format this information into a searchable and extractable open-access web database (see below for further details on the features of this database).
  • Deliver a visual showcase in the form of a series of posters that will be displayed in buildings across campus.
  • Evaluate the perception of the resource and the poster series via targeted staff and student feedback.

Resource features (g)

The resource will be searchable by both the contributor’s name and also the technique/topic/discovery/contribution that they are associated with. This allows staff who are familiar with ethnic minority contributors to access information that can easily be embedded not their course with minimum resource creation on their part. Staff who are less familiar with contributors, but who want to learn more are anticipated to use the contribution search function to search for topic related to their course in order to discover contributors that they can then include in their curriculum. 

Information will be formatted in such a way that it can be conveniently exported into class content, and also used as a standalone printed resource. The initial 10-15 entries will be printed as A2 posters which will be featured in prominent positions in STEM buildings on the campus. This will act as a very visible educational display of ethnic minority STEM role models for students and as a promotion for the access and use of the resource by staff. The resource will be expanded through the inclusion of a template that staff can use to add further entries which will be moderated by the applicant and included in the list of entries.

The financial breakdown of the project is as follows:

£900: Employment of a research assistant for three weeks at grade 5. This role is required to complete the significant tasks of the initial research required for the resource and the creation of the database. Tasks will include identifying a shortlist of candidates for inclusion in the resource, research on the chosen individuals for the resource entries, designing the visual database entry format and the design and creation of the resource.

£100: Printing of reusable posters for display on the cFampus.

For the total value of £1000, the project will deliver physical resources that will be seen by up to 22,000 students on campus, and a resource that will be free to use for any UK HEI that is looking to bring inclusivity to its STEM curriculum.

Outcomes (criteria a,b and d)

The anticipated outcomes of this project are:

  • Increasing the engagement and academic success of ethnic minority STEM students by showing them role models that they can relate to.
  • Give STEM academics an easy-to-use way of bringing inclusivity to their curriculum.
  • Sharing the findings of the project though Learner Developer networks (ALDinHE and ScotHELD) and via a paper in a Learning Development journal.
  • The resulting resource will be free and fully accessible to UK HEIs and the public.


Fernandes, M., 2021. What does decolonising the curriculum mean for STEM subjects?. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching14(2).

HESA: Higher Education Statistics Agency, (2021a) Higher Education Student Data 2019/20 [online: accessed 29/07/2021]

HESA: Higher Education Statistics Agency, (2021a) Higher Education Student Data 2019/20 [online: accessed 29/07/2021]

Swartz, S., 2018. Decolonising the curriculum: what we can learn from global South theories and experiences. [Seminar delivered to the Institute of Education, University College London on 31 October 2018].

Final report

For more information about the project, please contact Dr Jessica Bownes

BioJEWEL: Supporting undergraduate students to engage and reflect on academic work at all levels

Rachel Hope – University of York


The transition to university can present challenges for students due to the shift to self-directed learning and varying levels of confidence around studying within a Higher Education setting, especially amongst widening participation students. A sense of belonging can increase student retention and success, and student-centred learning approaches can be similarly effective in providing learning support. We therefore aim to develop an online undergraduate student journal for the Biosciences: The Biology Journal of Excellent Work and Exemplary Learning (BioJEWEL), to ease the transition of students into learning within a university environment and to develop a sense of community within their learning journey. The focus of BioJEWEL is to showcase undergraduate research and best practice as a pedagogical tool to engage and support students at all stages of the degree process by publishing annotated exemplars with connections to marking criteria, learning outcomes, online resources and reflective exercises to feed-forward into future assessments. Students will work as partners in the creation of the journal and subsequently in submission and editing roles. Focus groups and surveys will evaluate the impact of the journal for students, and template structures and online resources will allow for the journal to be rolled out in other departments and institutions to expand its impact.


This project aims to develop and evaluate an online undergraduate student journal for students in the Biosciences: The Biology Journal of Excellent Work and Exemplary Learning (BioJEWEL), to give students a sense of ownership and agency in their abilities to transition from further education, and become self-led active and reflective learners within an inclusive degree setting. The funding requested here will:

  • Develop and publish the first issue of BioJEWEL focused on Bioscience programmes at the University reaching a large body of undergraduate students, utilising staff and student partner collaboration (Autumn 2021). 
  • Evaluate its effectiveness in supporting and engaging students (Winter-Spring 2022).
  • Reflect and revise the journal structure for sustainable publication in the future, based on student feedback (Summer 2022).
  • Disseminate materials and instructions for other Bioscience departments to produce their own localised journals (Summer-Autumn 2022).

During their undergraduate degrees students undergo a significant transition from school-based study, to become self-directed adult learners. There can be an expectation that students, as adults, are capable of self-directed learning from the outset of their university education (Knowles et al, 2005), yet given that students come from a range of backgrounds there can be a knowledge gap for students and a lack of confidence in studying in Higher Education (HE) and developing as autonomous learners, especially for widening participation students (Crozier et al, 2007; Munro, 2011). Innovative teaching and student-centred learning approaches are proposed as effective support strategies (Hockings et al, 2010; Thomas, 2005). We propose developing an online journal run by a learning community of student and staff partners, which will ease the transition of students from disadvantaged backgrounds into learning within a university environment, and to feel confident in doing so, aligning with the aims of the Teaching Excellence Framework to improve outcomes for students. Such a sense of belonging and community can also increase student retention and success (Higher Education Academy, 2014). International students, and those using remote learning resources, such as part-time students or mature learners will benefit and there is scope for the journal to be used in a widening participation context providing copies to local schools for use in a journal club context and to highlight study support at university. Some aspects of this journal will be institution-specific, some discipline-specific, and others are more generalisable and as such applicable within a broader HE setting. 

The key purpose of BioJEWEL is to showcase undergraduate research and best practice as a pedagogical tool to engage and support students at all stages of the degree process, by publishing annotated exemplars and reflective work and to evaluate its efficacy. We will provide a scaffolded opportunity for students to develop their own practice through revising their work independently, or when working as editors on submitted work. Pieces published with a “Learning Lens”, building on the work of Kararo and McCartney (2019), will provide annotations to work e.g. tutorial essays, lab reports and research projects completed by students from Levels 4 -7 and will include aspects such as a glossary, connections to the marking criteria and module learning outcomes, and interpretations of figure outputs for example. These annotations will be linked to supporting study resources on the University’s Virtual Learning Environment. Such pieces will help students to understand the strengths of each piece of work and reflective exercises will allow for the feed-forward of these concepts to future assessments, thereby supporting the development of critical thinking and writing skills. 

BioJEWEL will also provide opportunities for news and opinion pieces accessible to a wide student-centric audience, cf. pieces from the “New Scientist” publication, and outputs from undergraduate-run symposia. Bioscientist profiles will be used to improve visibility and representation of diversity within the field of biology and provide role models for students, with particular emphasis on women in science and scientists belonging to groups with protected characteristics. Articles featuring Bioscience alumni and year in industry participants will improve employability awareness.  

Students at all stages will be able to participate in the editorial team and submissions process. By highlighting the excellent research and communications outputs of our students, this journal will complement our pedagogic focus on students as researchers. Students participating as active researchers throughout their degree has a positive influence on learning, and the documentation and publication of these results helps to further reinforce learning (Weiner and Watkinson, 2014). Furthermore, it “closes the loop” of the scientific and academic communications process for students (Weiner and Watkinson, 2014) and allows them insight into the publications process that they may encounter in postgraduate research, a direction which a substantial proportion of students choose to follow. 

Undergraduates have the potential to develop graduate-level skills, for example in communication and critical analysis, when carrying an article through to publication (Caprio, 2014). Students participating in undergraduate journals at other institutions have identified an increased understanding of their discipline (Jiggetts, 2010) and suggest that such journals have the ability to stimulate critical discussions between students and foster a better understanding of the research process (Gresty and Edwards-Jones, 2012). Publishing in an undergraduate journal helps a wider range of students to experience the process of review and publication, giving them opportunity for highly valued dialogic feedback (Beaumont, O’Doherty and Shannon, 2011) in an inclusive and supportive setting.

A substantial body of work has already been done in developing the journal structure (pre-Covid), so that the key tasks remaining are to establish a publishing pipeline for the student-staff editorial partnership and then evaluate the journal’s effectiveness. The impact of this research will be measured via student focus groups, surveying participants, and monitoring online engagement with the journal (qualitative and quantitative). This funding will support students to participate in the project before journal-aligned reflection, submission and editorial tasks are embedded into credit-bearing activities. We anticipate that the journal could be developed in a portable format allowing for establishment in other departments and an online workshop/webinar would allow the principles of journal development to be utilised in other institutions.


  • Beaumont, C., O’Doherty, M. and Shannon, L. 2011. Reconceptualising assessment feedback: a key to improving student learning? Studies in Higher Education 36 (6), 671-687
  • Caprio, M. J. (2014), ‘Student publishing: future scholars as change agents’, in OCLC Systems & Services: International digital library perspectives, 30 (3), 144–57
  • Crozier, G., Reay, D., Clayton, J. and Colliander, L. (2007) The socio-cultural and learning experiences of working class students in higher education. London, England
  • Gresty, K. and Edwards-Jones, A. 2012. Experiencing research-informed teaching from the student perspective: insights from developing an undergraduate e-journal. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43, 153-162
  • Higher Education Academy (2014) Framework for Partnership in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York, England: Higher Education Academy.
  • Hockings, C., Cooke, S. and Bowl, M. (2010) Learning and teaching in two universities within the context of increasing student diversity: complexity, contradictions and challenges. In M. David (Ed.), Improving Learning by Widening participation in Education (pp. 95-108). London, England: Routledge.
  • Jiggetts, V (2010) Opportunities for Sociology Students in Undergraduate Research Journals, Footnotes: American Sociological Association, 38 (3), 11
  • Kararo, M and McCartney, M (2019) Annotated primary scientific literature: A pedagogical tool for undergraduate courses. PLoS Biol 17(1): e3000103. journal.pbio.3000103
  • Knowles, M., Holton, I.E. and Swanson, R. (2005) The Adult Learner (sixth edition), Elsevier, USA and London 
  • Munro, L. (2011) ‘Go Boldly, Dream Large!’ The Challenges Confronting Non-Traditional Students at University. Australian Journal of Education, 55 (2), 115-131.
  • Thomas, L. (2005) The implications of widening participation for learning and teaching. In C. Duke and G. Layer (Eds.), Widening participation: Which Way Forward for English Higher Education (pp. 98-113). Leicester, England: NIACE.
  • Weiner, SA and Watkinson, C. (2014). What do Students Learn from Participation in an Undergraduate Research Journal? Results of an Assessment. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 2(2): eP1125.

Final report

For more information about the project, please contact Rachel Hope

Facilitating conversations about equality, diversity & inclusion using a card resource

Dr Matthew Sillence – University of East Anglia


Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is central for higher education institutions (HEIs). All UK universities are required to recognise and respond to national and global drivers for change (Equality Act, 2010; Sengupta et al., 2019: 4), but such topics can be deeply personal and challenging for educators and learners to address. This study draws on the recent development of a set of EDI cards at the University of East Anglia and accompanying guidance to encourage ‘brave spaces’ for EDI conversations in different training contexts. Firstly, it aims to evaluate the use of the EDI cards from the perspective of both the Facilitators and Participants, where previously only Facilitators’ reflections have been recorded. Secondly, it identifies novel learning scenarios that can be used to enrich the guidance on the use of EDI cards. This may include training for staff, peer training for students as community representatives, research students working as teaching assistants, or in fieldwork contexts. Finally, the findings of this project will contribute to an enhanced toolkit for Facilitators and Participants in different learning contexts within higher education. This research-informed guidance will be disseminated across institutions, evidencing our continuing commitment to adopting and sharing effective LD practice with the HE community.


Project Background

Although HEIs in the UK provide training on EDI, this can be deeply personal for both staff and students, and therefore challenging for both parties to address. Holley & Steiner (2005: 50) suggest creating a safe space that ‘allows students to feel secure enough to take risks, honestly express their views, and share and explore their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors’ and highlights that ‘being safe is not the same as being comfortable’. Engaging in activities that may surface participants’ own biases and challenge their personal values and beliefs can feel unsettling and requires courage to confront. Linguistically, a ‘brave space’ (Arao & Clemens, 2013: 142) or a ‘classroom of disagreements’ (Flensner & Von der Lippe, 2019: 284) rather than a ‘safe space’, may be preferable, to emphasise the challenging and transformational nature of discourse about equality and diversity. Mutually agreed ground rules, with specific Facilitator and Participant dispositions and behaviours, are recognised as promoting meaningful equality and diversity discourse (Holley & Steiner, 2005; Jackson, 2014; Harven & Soojinda, 2016; Williams, Woodson & Wallace, 2016). The theory and practice of EDI evidences our commitment to scholarly approach and research related to LD and informs the following research design.

Research Design

A set of EDI cards contains 18 key terms and images for EDI discourse: belonging, bias, boundaries, culture, discrimination, equity, freedom, gender, inclusion, language, ownership, power, prejudice, privilege, religion, respect, spirituality, and trust. The cards have been used with the University of _______  BAME Student Advocate and a student focus group, staff training and development, and with student representatives, which relates to the ALDinHE value making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnership working and collaboration. Session Facilitators receive guidelines for setting an appropriate context for creating safe/brave spaces, establishing agreed ground rules, deploying active listening skills and exercising compassion. At the end of a session, the Facilitator completes a questionnaire for reflections on the use of the resource.

Research Aims

This study has three aims:

  1. To evaluate the use of the EDI cards from the perspective of both the Facilitators and Participants, where previously only Facilitators’ reflections have been recorded;
  2. To identify new learning scenarios to enrich guidance on the use of EDI cards. This may include training for staff, peer training for students as community representatives, research students working as teaching assistants, or in fieldwork contexts;
  3. To disseminate further research-informed guidance across institutions, evidencing our commitment to adopting and sharing effective LD practice with the HE community.


Participant Involvement

This study involves Facilitators who lead staff and student training events, and Participants who comprise staff and students who hold community and representation roles, or work as teaching assistants. This relates to the ALDinHE value working alongside students to make sense of and get the most out of HE learning.

Facilitators at each institution will receive a briefing from a research team representative, who will explain the EDI guidance and possible exercises for using the cards, such as:

  • Sorting/ranking cards by degree of challenge to talk about
  • Mind-mapping possible connections between cards
  • Identifying opportunities and challenges that might arise in relation to each card and how they might prepare for these
  • Working 1-to-1 to reflect on any of the cards in particular, or create another card

Research Ethics Protocol

This project will be subject to research ethics approval at each university. Before an EDI card session, Facilitators and Participants will receive a Participant information Statement and Consent Form or an approved ethics statement, informing them of the aims of the project, their role, the use of their responses and the assurance of confidentiality if these are shared outside the research team. Individuals can provide explicit consent to complete the evaluation task and are not required to do so.

Data Collection

At the end of each EDI session, Facilitators and Participants will be allocated 10 minutes for a reflection task. For Facilitators, this takes the form of a questionnaire seeking responses to the context of use, purpose and description of the activity, observations of Participant response to the cards, their learning, the Facilitator’s learning, and plans for future activities around EDI. For Participants, the evaluation task comprises three open questions around the role of the cards in their learning and thinking, what was learnt, and how this will this impact the way they interact with others in future. If sessions are held in person (subject to Covid-19 safety precautions), then the reflection task will be conducted using paper forms, collected by the Facilitator. If these events are held online, Facilitators will email their response to the research team and Participants will provide feedback using an anonymous online form.

Data Analysis

EDI card session reflections will be collated and organised by the research team. Handwritten submissions will be transcribed to facilitate analysis. Each reflection will be categorised by institution, type (Facilitator/Participant), and event date. Responses to each question will be reviewed and independently coded by a team member from each university to identify key terms. These terms will be discussed jointly by the research team, and aggregated to form overarching themes for discussion. We are particularly interested in reflections on the learning scenario from the point of view of Facilitators and the Participants. This may include ideas concerning the purpose of the training event, or the effectiveness of particular exercises with the cards with certain groups of participants. This investigation evidences our work towards critical self-reflection, on-going learning and a commitment to professional development.


This project responds to an urgent need for ‘brave’ spaces within the higher education environment to effectively address EDI topics with both staff and students. In reporting on a range of scenarios and card activities that have not been tested in different HEIs, it provides an opportunity to enhance existing guidance with the affordances and challenges for Facilitators and Participants. Funding for this project will support the dissemination of this research-informed practice via the design and publication of an online EDI card toolkit, which can be shared with the learning developer community.


Arao, B. & Clemens, K. (2013) ‘From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue around Diversity and Social Justice.’ In Landreman, L. M. (ed.) The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, pp. 135–150. 

Compassion in Education (ND) Available at: [accessed 12 January 2021].

Flensner, K.K & Von der Lippe, M. (2019) ‘Being safe from what and safe for whom? A critical discussion of the conceptual metaphor of “safe space”’. Intercultural Education. 30(3), pp. 275–288. Available at:

Garibay, J.C. (2015) Creating a Positive Classroom Climate for Diversity. Available at:

Gilbert, T. (2017) When Looking is Allowed: What Compassionate Group Work Looks Like in a UK University. In P Gibbs (ed.) (2017) The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education. Springer: Switzerland, pp. 189-202. Available at:

Harven, A.M. & Soodjinda, D. (2016) ‘Pedagogical Strategies for Challenging Students’ World Views’. In Papa, R., Eadens, D.M. & Eadens, D.W. (eds) Social Justice Instruction: Empowerment on the Chalkboard. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, pp. 3-14. 

Holley, L. C. & Steiner, S. (2005) ‘Safe Space: Student Perspectives on Classroom Environment’. Journal of Social Work Education.

41(1). Available at:[accessed 7 January 2021]. 

Jackson, R. (2014) Signposts: Policy and Practice for Teaching about Religions and Non-Religious Worldviews in Intercultural Education. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing. Available at:’Signposts’_Policy_


Worldviews_in_Intercultural_Education [accessed 15 January 2021]. 

Kisfalvi, V. & Oliver, D. (2015) ‘Creating and Maintaining a Safe Space in Experiential Learning’. Journal of Management Education, 39(6), pp. 713–740. Available at: (2016). Equality Act 2010. [online] Available at:[accessed 16 July 2021].

Sengupta, E. et al. (2019) ‘Introduction to Strategies for Fostering Inclusive Classrooms in Higher Education’. In Hoffman, J., Blessinger, P. & Makhanya, M. (eds) Strategies for Fostering Inclusive Classrooms in Higher Education: International Perspectives on Equity and Inclusion. Innovations in Higher Education Teaching and Learning, Volume 16. United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing, pp. 3-16.

Williams, J.D., Woodson, A.N. & Wallace, T.L. (2016) ‘“Can We Say the N-word?”: Exploring Psychological Safety During Race Talk’. Research in Human Development, 13, pp. 15–31. Available at:

Final report

For more information about the project, please contact Dr Matthew Sillence

How do MSc students perceive the use of online escape rooms as a formative assessment in relation to their learning?

Stefano Licchelli – University of Surrey


The aim of this qualitative study is to understand how students perceive the use of an online escape room as a form of formative assessment. Indeed, the use of escape rooms in higher education has been seen to be effective in fostering learning (Gómez-Urquiza et al., 2019) through practical exercises (Kinio et al., 2019). 

The perception of the use of games as a way of applying knowledge and fostering learning and independence will be explored in MSc students [AAA] attending a lecture on HIV. Indeed, the MSc [AAA] is accredited with professional bodies and prepares students to be independent professionals. Thus, the use of the escape room as a formative assessment might promote independence in terms of self-evaluation of the learning outcomes achieved and educational needs of the students. This is going to be a qualitative study where students will be invited to answer a set of questions online. They will be actively involved providing feedback on a draft of the thematic map drawn from the data analysis to help the researcher making sense of the use of escape rooms as formative assessment. 

This study will provide scientific evidence for the use of online escape rooms in the classroom based on the experience of students. Teachers will be able to use the results from this study to critically evaluate if the use of online escape rooms would benefit their students and if this tool could support their learning experience considering the current situation with Covid-19. 



During the last decade there has been a focus on a new way to use games for learning purposes (Rosas et al., 2003; Haruna et al., 2018; Campillo-Ferrer et al., 2020; Fernandez-Antolin et al., 2020) which has seen different developments such as gamification of the learning experience or game-based learning (GBL) (Haruna et al., 2018) or serious games (Eleftheriou et al., 2017). However, we do not know enough around the use of games as a form of formative assessment.

Formative assessment is defined as a form of assessment that calls on students to evaluate their progress and provide feedback (Fry, Ketteridge & Marshall, 2008). Indeed, formative assessments might be important tools that would allow students to be more independent in their learning highlighting educational needs especially when considering postgraduate students and postgraduate courses accredited by professional bodies.

Furthermore, the escape room can be seen as a form of formative assessment to check understanding and to create a space for creative and collaborative use of knowledge. In this regard, it has been highlighted by Gikandi, Morrow and Davis (2011) in their literature review how online formative assessments were perceived positively by students, improving their engagement and putting them in a more central and key position. Another example of escape rooms used as a formative assessment is the one developed by Darby et al. (2020) where they aligned the escape room to the learning outcomes expected from nursing students with regards to obstetrical skills, creating a competitive group-based escape room. The authors described the effect of this competitive escape room as motivating and stimulating for both educators and students. Although, when conducting their study, Darby et al. (2020) did not extensively report the methodology used to analyse their data.

The aim of this study

The aim of this qualitative study is to understand how students perceive the use of online escape rooms as a form of formative assessment in the classroom using a rigorous methodology compared for example with the work of Darby et al. (2020). This study is going to improve our understanding of online escape rooms as a form of assessment and as tools to support and justify the use of games as an innovative way to foster the learning experience, promoting independence and to innovate curricula considering the Covid-19 pandemic.

The investigators involved in this project come from different fields (psychology and education) and decided to collaborate to better understand the gamifications of the learning experience and to find new ways to improve the learning experience of students.


The students from the [XXX] module from a MSc cohort will be invited to take part in the study after attending a lecture on HIV where they will experience the online escape room as a form of group activity. An advertisement will be shared with the students at the start of the module (approximately February/March). One week before the lecture, the students will be able to familiarise themselves with the content of the lecture, downloading the slides and exploring resources shared by the teacher. 

The MSc in [AAA] it is the first step to apply for registration to the HCPC as [registered professionals]. Thus, the MSc promotes independence and supports students in being reflective of their needs. The use of escape rooms could support students in checking their understanding and the exploration of further resources fostering independence in learning. Indeed, the lecture and the online escape room has a focus on sustainability goals (UN, 2015) presenting HIV as a health issue and tackling inequalities surrounding the spreading of this virus. 

The students will be invited to complete the escape room in groups of 3 to 5 students to develop communication, to support each other and to make sure that they can overtake obstacles together. The groups will not be put in competition with each other. 

The escape room is divided into three sections: in the first section students will need to answer some true or false questions around HIV, in the second section the students will need to complete a crossword and in the third section students will have a pool of sentences around HIV and they will need to match the correct sentence with the corresponding [AAA] model.

The escape room has been created considering the constructive alignment approach (Biggs, 2003). The content of the escape room has been created around the learning outcomes and the content of the lecture. Furthermore, the online escape room is going to be built to be accessible and inclusive. For example, an audio option for each task/question is going to be included for visually impaired people as well as hard copies of the escape room will be made available for students who need them. Indeed, considering sustainability, this escape room might work on both face-to-face and online settings, providing teachers with a sustainable tool.

Open-ended questions shared through Qualtrics are going to be used for this study. The responses of the students will be analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Furthermore, when signing the consent form, participants will be asked if they want to take a more active role in the study providing feedback on a draft of the thematic map, which is the visual representation of the main themes and sub-themes emerged during the analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Their feedback is going to be used to adjust the thematic map and will also increase the participation level of the students in the data analysis.

Dissemination of the results

The protocol of this study is going to be presented at the ALDinHE Conference 2022 and the final report is going to be published on the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. It might be worth exploring the possibility to deliver a brief workshop on how to create online escape rooms during the ALDinHE Conference. Furthermore, the results will be presented as poster in other conferences such as the [AAA] annual conference.

Reference List

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Campillo-Ferrer, J. M., Miralles-Martínez, P., & Sánchez-Ibáñez, R. (2020). Gamification in higher education: Impact on student motivation and the acquisition of social and civic key competencies. Sustainability (Switzerland), 12(12), 4822.

Darby, W., Bergeron, P., Brown, N., DeFoor, M., & Jones, B. (2020). Escape room relay race: “Go for the gold” in formative assessment. Journal of Nursing Education, 59(11), 646–650.

Eleftheriou, A., Bullock, S., Graham, C. A., & Ingham, R. (2017). Using computer simulations for investigating a sex education intervention: An exploratory study. JMIR Serious Games, 5(2), e6598.

Fernandez-Antolin, M. M., del Río, J. M., & Gonzalez-Lezcano, R. A. (2020). The use of gamification in higher technical education: perception of university students on innovative teaching materials. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 1–20.

Fry, H., Ketteridge, S., & Marshall, S. (2008). A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Routledge.

Gikandi, J. W., Morrow, D., & Davis, N. E. (2011). Online formative assessment in higher education: A review of the literature. Computers and Education, 57(4), 2333–2351.

Gómez-Urquiza, J. L., Gómez-Salgado, J., Albendín-García, L., Correa-Rodríguez, M., González-Jiménez, E., & Cañadas-De la Fuente, G. A. (2019). The impact on nursing students’ opinions and motivation of using a “Nursing Escape Room” as a teaching game: A descriptive study. Nurse Education Today, 72, 73–76.

Haruna, H., Hu, X., Chu, S. K. W., Mellecker, R. R., Gabriel, G., & Ndekao, P. S. (2018). Improving sexual health education programs for adolescent students through game-based learning and gamification. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(9), 2027.

Kinio, A. E., Dufresne, L., Brandys, T., & Jetty, P. (2019). Break out of the Classroom: The Use of Escape Rooms as an Alternative Teaching Strategy in Surgical Education. Journal of Surgical Education, 76(1), 134–139.

Rosas, R., Nussbaum, M., Cumsille, P., Marianov, V., Correa, M., Flores, P., Grau, V., Lagos, F., López, X., López, V., Rodriguez, P., & Salinas, M. (2003). Beyond Nintendo: Design and assessment of educational video games for first and second grade students. Computers and Education, 40(1), 71–94.

United Nations, (2015). Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

For more information about the project, please contact Stefano Licchelli

Improving the experience of Learning Development online one-to-one tutorials for students with SpLDs and physical disabilities.

Sam Thomas – University of Northampton


The move to online one-to-one tutorials took place almost overnight at the start of the pandemic, and for most students these have become the preferred method of engaging with Learning Development tutors. However, some students have expressed frustration with using the technology required to access the tutorials, particularly students with specific learning differences (SpLDs) and physical disabilities. As the proportion of students that attend our University who declare a disability is increasing it is important that we make our services as accessible as possible to all students (Hubble and Bolton, 2021). This research seeks to explore some of the limitations faced by students in making the most of online one-to-one tutorials, evaluate potential adjustments and to make recommendations to improve the experience for all.

A small group of students will be recruited to take part in a user experience (UX) project which over the course of a few weeks will explore their study practices, needs and experiences. The user experience of booking and taking part in online learning development tutorials will be investigated using interviews and focus groups. Their reflection on their experiences will be analysed and coded using empathy mapping (Borg and Reisma, 2016). These activities will uncover barriers to effectiveness of the Learning Development journey from booking the tutorial to evaluating the session, which can then be addressed by collating potential solutions into an action plan that will be prioritised and implemented where possible. The resulting adaptations will be evaluated and results shared to improve practice more widely.


Prior to March 2020 very few Learning Development (LD) one-to-one tutorials at the institution took place online. Whilst students could choose to have an online, telephone or face-to-face tutorial, most students chose the latter. The global pandemic caused a shift to working online, and as with most of our other work, our tutorials became virtual too. Having worked in this way for over a year, it is clear that many students prefer the convenience of online tutorials and will continue to access our services in this way, however some students have expressed frustration using the technology, particularly in regard to specific learning differences (SpLDs) and physical disabilities. As the proportion of students that attend our University who declare a disability is increasing it is important that we make our services as accessible as possible to all students (Hubble and Bolton, 2021). This research seeks to explore some of the limitations faced by students in making the most of online one-to-one tutorials, evaluate potential adjustments and to make recommendations to improve the experience for all. It closely aligns to the ALDinHE values of working alongside students and making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, as well as the specific theme of equality, diversity and inclusion.

One-to-one tutorials

Existing research has shown the effectiveness of one-to-one tutorials in a learning development context, with students who attend LD tutorials achieving higher grades than their peers (Manalo et al, 2009; Loddick and Coulson, 2020). In addition, a higher proportion of students who had declared a disability took up the offer of tutorials than those without: 16% with a declared disability attended tutorials compared with 12% of students in the University population overall (citation removed). However, the data shows that disabled students attending LD tutorials not only perform less well than their peers, but the impact made by tutorials is significantly lower, showing a 4.22% mean increase in assessment attainment (0% median) as opposed to a 6.09% mean (3% median) increase for those without disabilities (citation removed). This discrepancy, along with anecdotal feedback from students about the issues they face in an online environment, means that further research needs to be undertaken to fully understand the particular barriers and problems encountered by students with disabilities and SpLDs in accessing LD support effectively.

Research method

A small group of students will be recruited to take part in a user experience (UX) project which will examine the difficulties they face in online teaching environments generally, and their lived experience of learning development tutorials in particular. A UX approach will be used as this enables the researcher to discover and collect rich data from a variety of activities that are focused on the student experience (Woods et al., 2019). Over a series of weeks they will take part in research activities designed to explore their study practices, needs and experiences, including interviews and focus groups which will provide rich qualitative data about student learning processes, perceptions and attitudes to seeking support from LD. In addition, students will take part in learning development tutorials and their reflection on their experiences will be analysed and coded using empathy mapping (Borg and Reisma, 2016). These activities will uncover barriers to effectiveness of the tutorial session which can then be addressed in an exercise to collate potential solutions into an action plan that will be prioritised and implemented where possible, and evaluated.

Measuring impact

The project aims to improve the experience of LD one-to-one tutorials for specific groups of students, so to measure this we need to understand what the current experience is and whether the solutions suggested and implemented via the action plan have a positive impact. To do this, students will be asked to reflect on their experiences of booking and taking part in learning development tutorials. Feedback on their experience of an LD tutorial before changes are made will be collected via interviews, and interviews will be repeated with the same students after adaptations are made. The transcripts of the interviews will be coded and analysed to develop an understanding of the issues, adaptations and their impact on the students. Empathy mapping and thematic coding will be used to organise the data, which will then be used to analyse the impact on the students’ experiences of online tutorials of the adaptations.


Participants will be recruited in partnership with the Student Union, and will be offered a token of thanks for participating in the research in accordance with University regulations (citation removed). Consent for the research will be sought from the (anonymized) Research Ethics Committee; the research will be conducted in an ethical manner, and a data management plan to ensure that all records are kept secure and confidential. Due to the potentially vulnerable nature of participants, care will be taken to ensure that informed consent is gained at all stages of the research project, and that students are informed that they are able to withdraw from the research at any time. Students will be clearly informed about the nature of their involvement in the project from the start, and will be invited to take part in the dissemination of results should they wish. The timing of the interventions with students will be flexible so that it fits with their individual timetable, and tutorials take place at a relevant point in their studies. 

Outputs and dissemination

The progress of the research will be reported regularly via a blog, which will be updated by both the researcher and participants on at least a monthly basis. This will form an ongoing research report to complement the final outputs of a recommendations plan and video of project findings, to be hosted on the blog. The project findings will also be disseminated via relevant conferences and journals including ALDinHE conference and the JLDHE. It is anticipated that the findings will be relevant not only for learning development practitioners, but also those who work regularly with students on a one-to-one basis online. (1000 words)


Borg, M. and Reisma, M. (2016) ‘Holistic UX: harness your library’s data fetish to solve the right problems’,pp. 38-48, in Preistner, A. and Borg, M. (eds.) User Experience in Libraries : Applying Ethnography and Human-Centred Design. London: Taylor and Francis.

Hubble, S., and Bolton, P. (2021) Support for disabled students in higher education in England. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 8716, 22 Feb 2021. Available from: (Accessed: 28 July 2021).

Loddick, A. and Coulson, K. (2020) ‘The impact of Learning Development tutorials on student attainment’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (17). Available from: (Accessed: 28 July 2021).

Manalo, E., Marshall, J. and Fraser, C. (2009) Student Learning Support Programmes that demonstrate tangible impact on student retention, pass rates, and/or completion. Available from: (Accessed: 27 July 2021).

Woods, L., Dockery, R. and Sharman, A. (2019) ‘Using UX research techniques to explore how Computing undergraduates understand and use library and student guidance services’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education (16). Available from: (Accessed 29 July 2021).

For more information about the project, please contact Sam Thomas

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