UCL’s ABC Seminar (14 June 2019)

I took myself and my impressive migraine along to UCL last week, hoping I’d be able to string a sentence together by the time I was up to speak. I used to work in their building in Torrington Place, so it was interesting to see how it had been refitted since my days. It’s also interesting at these events to see the different ‘brands’ in the Powerpoints, have to say I think the Goldsmiths one looks pretty good.



I digress.

The theme of the day was how people had taken UCL’s ABC approach and adapted it for their situation.

I first discovered the cards around 18 months ago when I received a pile of them from FutureLearn, then after attending an ABC workshop at UCL in 2018 I was a convert. We use them for MOOCs and are trying to roll out their use more widely. My colleage Mark created a set of ‘Goldsmiths’ cards and we have a simple A4 list of tools that support the different types of learning (we bring that out later).

At the event, Gill Ritchie from QMUL spoke about how they used it with their Academic Practice module, which has a similar aim to what we do at Goldsmiths. We run a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and we thought it would be interesting to see if we could create a 60 minute ‘mini ABC’ session. The PG Cert is available to anyone with a teaching role and students tend to be early career academics spread across departments. It would therefore be a great way to spread the word about ABC. They’re also a pretty smart bunch, so we wanted to make sure we weren’t wasting their time.

We decided to get them to create a fictitious, short course. The programme lead, Mary Claire Halvorson, came up with the inspired idea of a critical thinking course, something which was relevant across all departments and would get people talking.

We decided to compress the session down to 60 minutes, we showed them the Diana Laurillard video (shown below) and gave them a three minute lightning tour of ABC with a couple of examples on screen.

We then let them loose on their task.

Title: An introduction to critical thinking

  • Imaginary stand-alone course
  • 2 weeks – 4 hours a week
  • Face to face, online or a blend of the two (your choice)


  • To provide an overview of critical thinking
  • To provide students with opportunities to practise critical thinking

We compressed the timings of the exercise as follows:

  • Module tweet size description (5 mins)
  • Fill in the 2 graphs (5 mins)
  • Arrange the cards as sequences for each week (10 mins)
  • Turn over cards and fill in details / tweak the order (15 mins)
  • Identify assessment activities (5 mins)
  • Redraw the graphs & take a photo (5 mins
  • Pitch your design (2 minutes each)

Much to my relief, it was a roaring success! You could tell by the volume in the room that it was working.

After the session we put the finished designs on learn.gold.

A selection of ABC cards arranged on a table

ABC Cards


My colleague Mark and I were invited to re-run the exercise for our academic practice module. This is where we learned a valuable lesson – furniture. We didn’t realise the room had no tables, however the students improvised and sat on the floor and it still worked well.

Talking of lessons learned,  a few of the other speakers spoke of the need to have pre-ABC and post-ABC workshops, particularly where the learning outcomes are unclear or need revisiting – and that’s something we’ve found on occasions.

Converting the ABC cards to electronic forms was discussed, with some institutions using Excel. At Goldsmiths I created a Trello board to enable this. Trello is a web-based, light-touch project management system where you have cards arranged in columns. You can move them around, add text to them etc. It’s basically the ABC in vertical columns instead of horizontal rows.

Here’s the template:

Trello cards arranged in columns

An ABC template in Trello

The idea is people copy items from the ‘card deck’ and drag them to different columns as needed. Digital artefacts (images, docs) can be attached to cards so it’s a useful way to carry on designing and tweaking collaboratively.  I’ll share this (when I’ve worked out the best way to do it).

One thing I particularly liked was Clare Gormley’s presentation from Dublin City University. She outlined how they had mapped aspects of ABC to various institutional strategies, something I think we’ll try here at Goldsmiths.

All in all, an interesting and useful day and good to see colleagues from previous institutions I’ve worked at – hello UCL, UWL and SGUL! Thanks to Clive, Nataša, Janice and everyone concerned.

(Still have the migraine by the way).


Any technology is education technology – or is it?

I recently attended the M25 ALT meeting over at Imperial College in London which looked at those peripheral technologies that people are using – things not obviously designed to be ‘ed tech’. There was some lively debate.

You can read all about it on this collaboratively edited blog post: Any technology is education technology?

There was also a tour of some of the teaching spaces which had been refitted to make them more flexible – some pictures below:


Open Education and the Connected Learning Curriculum at UCL

By Suzan Koseoglu, Academic Developer at TaLIC, Goldsmiths, University of London. 

University College London (UCL) held a fantastic afternoon symposium last week on Open Education at UCL. The symposium “explored different approaches to Open Education and how these are practiced by staff and students at UCL.” This was a well thought out event with speakers discussing many important issues such as the ethics of open data, policy and organisational frameworks for opening up HE, pedagogy, and student and staff experience.  

One interesting thing I learned at the symposium was UCL’s Connected Learning Curriculum (Fung, 2017), and how this pedagogical framework/vision gives directions and purpose to Open Educational Practices (OEP) at UCL. According to the UCL website, “Connected Learning Curriculum is at the core of UCL’s Education Strategy 2016-21 and UCL 2034, the university’s 20-year institutional strategy.” In connection with opening up UCL, one objective of the strategy is:

We will provide a distinctive digital  infrastructure to connect students with each other, with staff, with research and with the outside world to support networked, research-based and interdisciplinary education.

You can see the six dimensions of Connected Learning Framework below, from Leo Havemann and Jo Stroud’s presentation, “Open Educational Practices for a Connected Curriculum.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 12.20.31.png

What was interesting to see in Havemann’s talk and throughout the symposium was the intersection between Open Education and Connected Learning Curriculum in the form of open practice at UCL, such as opening up assignments and the use and production of Open Educational Resources (OERs). 

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 12.16.59.png

One example for this would be the collaborative and interdisciplinary Wikibooks writing project presented by  James Everest and a group of students: Guy Phillips, Constance Grave, Kseniia Panteleeva, and Andrei Andronic: 

As Havemann and Stroud noted in their presentation, “Connected Curriculum and Open Education propose that students create assignments for real audiences, rather than traditional, ‘disposable’ assignments.” The Wikibooks project very clearly showed the audience (1) how educators can create assignments for real audiences, and (2) how designing an OER is not just about producing Open Access content. First, students and their teacher created a set of learning objects, which can be defined as “a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective.” Some examples would be the sandboxes students worked on, their final wiki chapters, and the rubric James Everest used to assess this assignment. Second, students learned many valuable meta skills during this process such as “copyright, referencing and awareness of quality of resources/ sources to be used in academia,” open licences and media literacies, and “working collaboratively” with others. And I think they enjoyed the process and were happy to share their experiences with us.

The symposium also showed the audience how practice needs to be supported by policy and infrastructure, but more importantly by a clear pedagogical vision. UCL is doing a fantastic job with using the Connected Curriculum Framework as a roadmap for their open practices. It was inspiring to see on the day how institutional vision and pedagogy can lead to open practices that are meaningful for both students and teachers.

CSI Goldsmiths: Game-based learning for programming

 Dr Simon Katan (Computing) reports on his project of last year:

Simon at workHaving observed many under-practiced student programmers in my teaching career, the tell-tale signs are obvious: slow and error riddled typing, poor mouse control, unfamiliarity with cut and paste patterns, disorganised screen space, poor workflow. Compared to the required conceptual learning these skills might seem trivial.  However, my experience as a former music teacher tells me that fluency and conceptual learning are strongly interrelated.  Time and again I encounter students who are overwhelmed with theoretical learning before having achieved basic fluency. Concepts develop in fingers as well as heads.

Just as in music, developing fluency requires repetitive practice, and this is where things become difficult for us lecturers.  The burden of creating enough exercises and marking them places an upper limit on how much practice we can facilitate.  We also face the problem of how to motivate our students.

To address all this TaLIC funded me to create CSI Goldsmiths, a gamified programme of learning consisting of 24 film noir-themed code puzzles.  Students play the role of a police cadet rising through the ranks of the force by solving code crimes.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 12.16.41



The puzzles are automatically marked.  Not only does this save a lot of work, it also allows the students to repeatedly improve attempts in response to automatic feedback.  In another feature the puzzles are varied slightly with each download.  Each variant presents the same problem but with the detail changed.  To improve their score students solve multiple variants of each puzzle.  They also have a dashboard to keep track of their progress.  The result is an environment which facilitates and motivates repetitive practice.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 12.20.05

I tried all of this out last term with our cohort of 278 undergraduate students last term with some interesting results.  57% of students said they found the assignment difficult, whilst 58% of students scored above 60% on the assignment.  61% of students believed that they spent more time on this than other assignments, and the majority of students disliked the repetition.  However, the majority also agreed that the assignment had helped them – practice is always something of a bitter pill.  The real test for effectiveness will be in the students’ performance and fluency this term.

ABC Curriculum Design

By Dr. Debbie Custance, Academic Director of TaLIC and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I seem to always be snowed under with work nowadays. So, when one of my TaLIC colleagues, Pete Roberts, asked whether I would like to attend a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education session on ABC Curriculum Design, my first instinct was to say, “I would love to, but I am too busy.” However, I’d seen some of the feedback from the ABC sessions and I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. So, despite the little voice whispering that all I really doing was engaging in ‘productive procrastination,’ I went along. I am so glad that I did.

The ABC method was devised at UCL and is based on Prof Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework Model. This model identifies six different learning types:

  • Acquisition
  • Investigation
  • Collaboration
  • Discussion
  • Practice
  • Production

These are beautifully described in this short video.

In the PG Cert session, we were given sets of six types of cards each with one of the learning types printed on them. We were asked to use these to help us design a short two week course on critical thinking. We had to devise a tweet that advertised the course, map the balance of different activities and types of learning and create a storyboard, using the cards, to plan out the course. UCL have produced a great video that describes and shows an ABC session.

I think the aspect of the ABC session I took part in that surprised me most was just how useful it was to do this kind of planning in a group. Just the act of bringing colleagues together in one place to focus on curriculum design is useful. The ABC method offers a coherent structure, whilst the group discussion stimulated creativity and prompted innovation because working together was fun.

I would strongly encourage anyone who is planning a new module or programme or in the process of revising an existing set of teaching to consider contacting TaLIC talic@gold.ac.uk to ask them to host an ABC session for you and your colleagues.

Dr Deborah Custance

TEF Planning at the Senior Staff Residential

BDr. Debbie Custance, Academic Director of TaLIC and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Once a year, Goldsmiths’ Senior Staff head off for a two-day residential in which they brainstorm, plan, share and network. I was invited to join them on the second day for a session on planning for the next Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF 2020).

We were assigned to tables of around 10 people and asked to discuss what we were currently working on and what we plan to go on to focus on in the future that is relevant to the TEF. Rather than providing a full account of our conversation, I thought that it would be more interesting to pick out a number of examples of good practice and novel ideas that emerged during the morning’s discussion.

Building Learning Communities

One aspect that emerged as a priority around my table was building learning communities. Staff were very concerned that their students report not feeling part of a community. Part of the problem is that many students commute to College and nearly all of them have to juggle their time between university and one or two part-time jobs. They come to class and have to rush away again. It is very hard to build a community under these circumstances.

The Department of Visual Cultures went so far as to move staff out of an office to share offices with colleagues so that they could free up space to create a common room. Staff and students now have a space within the department where they can gather informally outside of timetabled teaching. Visual Cultures also set aside £500 that students could bid for to conduct an activity or project that would enrich engagement. The winning bid this year was for a student-led festival. These are truly lovely initiatives, but it is difficult to measure their impact.

One of the problems faced by students is that university life, especially in London, can be lonely. It can be hard to meet people. I know that I would not have stuck out my university studies if I had not made a group of very close and supportive friends. In fact, when you are living away from you’re your friends become a substitute family – ‘framily’ in modern parlance. International students face the added challenge of adapting to an alien culture, so that finding a framily can be very difficult.

The Confucius Institute set up a learn.gold (this what we call Goldsmiths’ Virtual Learning Environment) area that is a language network site. Students who wish to learn and/or teach a language can meet through this site. It has been a tremendous success with a very high number of active users. The added benefit has been that students are making friends through the site. It has become as much a social network as a language one.

The language network has got me thinking – are there any other activities that we could facilitate in this way? Nearly every major city in the UK has a ‘Meet Up’ site: check out MeetUp London. Anyone can set up a MeetUp group based around an activity. There are walking groups, art groups, theatre groups, music groups, museum visitors groups, baking groups – in fact practically any activity you think of, there is a group for it. Perhaps we could set up a MeetUp Goldsmiths site or even a MeetUp University of London site? We could hire computer literate students to help set it up and manage it.

Liberating the Curricula

Another burning issue that emerged from our discussion was liberating the curricula. Several departments are working with students to explore decolonising the curricula. Media, Communications and Cultural Studies set up a staff-student working group. One of the results from this was that they added an item onto their module evaluation forms that asked about Liberating the Curriculum. They decided to pose the question so that was framed in a positive way, “How can the module be improved in this respect?” This moves the focus from what is wrong to how it can be put right.

The Music Department has also been discussing liberating the curricula with their student. They held an open forum on the subject. As a result, the department created a new staff role of Diversity and Representation Officer.

Student Wellbeing and Mental Health

Non-continuation was also an issue of great worry to many departments. The Department of Educational Studies is very vigilant in meeting with students who wish to interrupt or withdraw to find out exactly why and what can be done to help. They have identified mental health and financial issues as the main reasons that students drop out.

The Psychology Department agreed that anxiety and depression were at a worryingly high level amongst their students. They have come up with a highly novel way of addressing student wellbeing. They launched a Mindfulness and Magic project with their undergraduate first years. Students either learned mindfulness techniques (taught by a Psychology third year undergraduate who is a specialist in the area) or they taught each other how to perform magic tricks. The magic activity has the added advantage of building learning communities. Since it is the Psychology department, they have naturally collected data and should soon be able to report their findings.

I am from the Psychology Department and over the past two years, I have run a project with three student collaborators on the effect of mindfulness practice versus interacting with a dog on levels of anxiety and one’s perception of how much your university cares about you. We found positive effects for both dog interaction and mindfulness compared to students who received no intervention. However, the mindfulness condition showed longer-term positive effects. I gave the students in the mindfulness condition a five-minute podcast of a mindfulness meditation that they could take away and use afterwards. The attendees at the Away Day were surprised to learn that both the Student Union and the Accommodation Office offered dog interaction sessions during last year’s exam period. Based on my research, I suggest that we also offer mindfulness sessions with free podcasts for the students to take away so they can keep practicing.

I loved the fact that most of our discussion during the TEF session was not so much about the TEF, but about a genuine concern for student experience, rights and wellbeing. I don’t know if these initiatives will translate into improved NSS scores. With the continued SU recommendation for a boycott, I fear that we will not be able to detect positive effects through the standard metrics. Not being able to measure the results is disheartening, but it is clear that staff all across the college are working hard and constantly seeking ways to enhance their students experience.

Using Action Learning Sets with students, mentors within our partnership schools and the wider community within Goldsmiths

Liz Morrison (left) Alison Griffiths (right)



The approach we explored in our project was based upon Action Learning.  Action Learning is an approach to empowering the individual to address problems or issues that have arisen in their professional experience that was developed by Reg Revans and has been widely adopted by a range of organisations for a range of purposes. The action learning approach:

“…is a means of development, intellectual, emotional or physical that requires its subjects, through responsible involvement in some real, complex and stressful problem, to achieve intended change to improve their observable behaviour henceforth in the problem field.”(Revans 1982: 626–7)


It involves the individual in engaging in small group focussed, structured reflection. Some of the characteristics of Action Learning includes:

  • a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex;
  • a diverse problem-solving team or “set”;
  • a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection;
  • a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and a commitment to learning.


Our project had three stages:

  • The facilitation of Action Learning sets designed to support tutors from the PGCE Programme Team at Goldsmiths;
  • To train staff in how to facilitate Action Learning sets to support others they work with;
  • To broaden the learning arising from the Action Learning Sets to students, mentors within our partnership schools and the wider community within Goldsmiths.

The approach, as we interpreted it, initially fell within the “experiential school” that has learning at its heart and draws on Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle as its theoretical base.  This means that the starting point for learning is action with members of the learning set reflecting upon experience with the support of others, followed by further action, in order to change previous patterns. The overall goal of the Action Learning set is not to give advice but rather to question, with the aim of empowering the individual to generate their own solutions to the problem they have brought with them.


Revans, R. (1982) The Origin and Growth of Action Learning. Chartwell Bratt, Bromley.


Alison and Liz will be leading a Lunchtime Conversation on the topic, as part of the season of talk in the Autumn Term, 2018.  Further details in the Staff Learning Hub.



Reflections on the TaLIC Away Day

image Deborah CustanceThe Teaching and Learning Innovation Centre (TaLIC) had our first Away Day in two years on Monday 17th September. Eight new staff have joined the team since January. The Away Day was a great opportunity to get to know each other better.  We didn’t actually go away or at least not very far. Rather than pay for a venue, we booked the Garden Room down through the archway beyond the back of the Whitehead Building. The Garden Room is such a lovely space. It is adjacent to an open green space that most people are not aware even exists.


“St James Hall Garden is a mindful space on campus where staff and students can take a break.” Source: https://www.gold.ac.uk/find-us/places/st-james-hall-garden/


We completed a mixture of silly, fun and serious activities. For me the most inspiring discussion was raised by Suzan Koseoglu about Angela McRobbie’s characterisation of education as a public service rather than a customer service. It has made me think about what kind of service TaLIC is providing to Goldsmiths’ staff and, indirectly through our support of staff, students. It seems to me that our work with staff in some ways mirrors the most advanced methods of working with students. The most satisfying and advanced pedagogy involves a two-way process of co-creation with ‘student-researchers’ and ‘learning-professors’. TaLIC has certain skills and expertise, but we can’t simply deliver or impose this upon our colleagues. The only way that we can be of real use is enter a process of co-creation.

We all agreed that one of our most important functions is to create opportunities for thinking spaces for staff to come together from across the whole college and explore their practice. It can be so liberating to break out of the day-to-day routine and engage in blue sky thinking with one’s colleagues. The Away Day provided such an opportunity to the TaLIC team. We are now enthused to find ways of providing similar opportunities for our colleagues outside of TaLIC.

Dr Debbie Custance

Beyond Lecture Capture

On Thursday 14 June I attended an event organised by the Digital Education Group of the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association which looked at experiences of lecture recording and video for learning in general.

There were presentations from a number of institutions, with academic and learning technology staff sharing their experience. There was also a student panel who discussed their use of the technology.

Typically what was recorded was the presenter’s voice and whatever happened to be on the screen – slides or maybe a visualiser. I’ve worked in a couple of institutions that used Panopto and I’m aware of both the concerns of staff and the enthusiasm of students for the technology, but Thursday’s sessions highlighted some interesting new findings or advantages:

  • Students actively listen in the lecture, note key points and then complete their notes from viewing the recordings. As one student said, if he looked through his notes and wondered why he’d written ‘trees’, he could go through the recording, find the relevant bit and amend his notes
  • Students actively listening make lectures more engaging for staff – the students are actually looking at you and paying attention!
  • The type of questions students ask show a deeper learning
  • In one course, the lecturer found that 62% students report reduced anxiety about the module and the number of 1sts and 2.1s increased
  • Students mainly watch at home or in student accommodation (mobile viewing still a small part of the picture)

The major problems from the student viewpoint were:

  • Lectures not always being recorded (either a technical issue or a module lead not wishing to be recorded – students need to know if something is not being recorded)
  • Poor quality or missing sound, either a microphone not working or the lecturer moving away from the lectern

From the staff viewpoint, a couple of concerns and recommendations:

  • Students need an induction in how to use the recordings, contextualised by academics in terms of note-taking and revision strategies (eg: watching the whole thing through repeatedly is not a good way to learn)
  • Set up a steering group with academics, students, IT, timetabling, estates, AV and learning technology staff

Generally there was agreement among staff and students that lecture recording is a valuable supplement, not a replacement for being present.

Finally Ale Armenelli from the University of Northamption spoke about their model of Active blended learning (below) which dispenses with lecture theatres and lectures.

Northampton's ABL

Northampton’s ABL


The largest rooms on the new campus accomodate around 60 people for team based learning activities.

Interestingly they don’t have staff offices either, including the VC. At which the room went strangely quiet, apart from the odd jaw dropping….

View the programme and presentations



From GIST to Enhancing Academic Skills Online

Antonia Lewis reports on a TaLIC Teaching & Learning Fellowship Award project, commissioned during spring, 2017.

staff photoThis project originally stemmed from the need to update an online library and academic skills tutorial situated on learn.gold – GIST (Goldsmiths Information Skills Tutorial).  GIST, also realised with funding from TaLIC in 2012, was designed as a collaborative project between Library staff and the former CELAW.  It followed observations that information and academic skills resources needed to be more clearly sign-posted as a ‘one-stop shop’.  GIST proved popular, but its content and appearance had become out of date.  Many of the resources it listed had been superseded, particularly as the Library had undergone a process to update its online catalogue.  Student feedback from a focus group run in January also confirmed that a new approach would be worthwhile.  The old, existing GIST resource was felt to be ‘too detailed’ and felt ‘overwhelming’.  Feedback suggested that more visual elements were needed and clearer, more obvious chapter headings, such as “How to write an essay”, might work more effectively.

This time, it made sense to work collaboratively with members of the team who deliver the Enhancing Academic Skills (EAS) workshops (www.gold.ac.uk/eas) – most of whom are now members of the new Academic Skills Centre.  It was proposed that the GIST structure could be unpicked and rebuilt as an academic skills resource, modelled on the portfolio of sessions delivered as part of EAS.  With these changes, the materials might better support and reinforce face-to-face teaching that was taking place at the same time.

There were several challenges in getting started.  The project timeline coincided with departmental restructures and some senior staff moving on or leaving.  The creation of the Academic Skills Centre had just been announced.  Working collaboratively across departments when staff have different priorities and management responsibilities also took a while to negotiate.  However with some persistence, a solid team emerged and we pressed forward with the project plan.

Progress was slow, but by working steadily and consistently over the summer, a resource began to take shape.  At times, there were some technical challenges.  Many of the applications we used to create content with had to be self-taught and a process of trial and error was often used to get the sound and visuals up to standard.  The practicalities of finding time, despite the extra funding, created additional pressure.

By the end of September, the majority of the content was complete and the  Enhancing Academic Skills Online (http://libguides.gold.ac.uk/eas) resource was launched, just after Welcome Week in September.  A decision was also made to retain some content on the VLE, but the main resource sits on the platform – Libguides – a simple and widely used content management system designed for Libraries.

Enhancing Academic Skills Online includes chapters on – ‘Making the Most of Lectures and Seminars’ – ‘Researching, Using the Library and Referencing’ (with subsections such as ‘Using Library Search’, ‘Advanced Search Techniques’ and Zotero). Each section contains tutorials, video demos and interactive elements.


Enhancing Academic Skills Online is still seen as a work in progress.  The next stage will  be to test the resource and gather feedback on its use, to finalise developments and to refine the roll-out strategy.  Another student focus group is planned for the middle of January 2018 and the resulting feedback will be rolled into the next iteration.  Let us know what you think.


For more information or to feedback your views, please contact: Antonia Lewis (antonia.lewis@gold.ac.uk)