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).



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