About Donovan Synmoie

Academic Developer, TaLIC, Goldsmiths College, University of London

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.

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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.

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.



A Practice-based Curriculum for Reflective Learning in Social Work.

Adi Staempfli, Lecturer in Social Work in the Department Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies (STaCS) outlines his successful TaLIC Fellowship 2016-17 bid:

adi_staempfiThe challenge for social work is to find ways to integrate knowing, doing and values in and for a complex and uncertain practice world and social workers need to continually develop their competence. In his PhD research, Adi Staempfli therefore addresses the question: How can social workers be best supported to continuously develop their professional knowledge, skills and values and integrate these with their practice? 

Adi Staempfli adopts a practice based perspective (Schatzki et al., 2001) and explores the literature on profession and professionalism and suggests that reflexive professionalism, in which different forms of knowledge are integrated, is required. His thesis further analyses learning theories in relation to the development of competence and the role of reflection.

There is “a considerable body of research on how expertise … is developed” that suggests that intuitive skills “are essentially derived from experience”.  But experience alone is not sufficient.  It needs to be underpinned by reflection to enable learning, which is “best achieved in conversation with others, in supervision … or in discussions with colleagues“ (Munro, 2011: 87).  A reflective learning approach supports the integration of knowing, doing and values, if it focuses on “ways that ‘speak’ to the situations regularly encountered in social work” (Trevithick, 2011: 140).  Therefore, an approach to learning that is organised around practice situations is called for.

Adi Staempfli suggests that a focus on typical and reoccurring practice situations in reflective learning in and for practice, as proposed in the Key Situations in Social Work model (Tov, Kunz & Staempfli, 2016; Staempfli, Kunz & Tov, 2012) offers such an approach that builds on notions of reflective and evidence-informed practice, problem-based, situated and blended learning around key situations.  It combines individual, social and organisational learning in communities of practice  with a virtual platform on which the situations are shared (Staempfli, et al., 2016).  The innovative approach is applied in several universities in German-speaking regions in Europe and has been successfully piloted in three Local Authorities in London. The model offers an innovative form of continuous professional development.

However, there is no systematic account of what these key situations in English social work are. The author therefore applies a modified DACUM (developing a curriculum) method to describe these in a participatory action research project together with experienced social workers. The Teaching and Learning Fellowship grant enables him to run a series of workshops and the expected outcome will be a collection of titles and characteristics of key situations in English social work. These will then form the basis for reflections and offer a situational knowledge categorisation on the virtual platform.

For further information on the model visit the project homepage (German), the English home page, or watch this video that explains the Key Situation approach.

If you are an experienced social worker interested in contributing to this innovative research please contact a.staempfli@gold.ac.uk.


MUNRO, E. 2011. The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report. A child-centered system. London: Departement of Education.

SCHATZKI, T., KNORR-CETINA, K. & VON SAVIGNY, E. 2001. The practice turn in contemporary theory., London and New York, Routledge.

STAEMPFLI, A., TOV, E., KUNZ, R., TSCHOPP, D. & EUGSTER STAMM, S. 2016. Improving professionalism through reflection and discourse in communities of practice: The key situations in social work model and project. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 14(2), 59-79.

STAEMPFLI, A., KUNZ, R. & TOV, E. 2012. Creating a bridge between theory and practice: working with key situations. European Journal of Social Education, 22/23, 60-78.

TOV, E., KUNZ, R. & STÄMPFLI, A. 2016. Schlüsselsituationen der Sozialen Arbeit.  Professionalität durch Wissen, Reflexion und Diskurs in Communities of Practice., Bern, hep.

TREVITHICK, P. 2011. The generalist versus specialist debate in social work education in the UK. In: LISHMAN, J. (ed.) Social Work Education. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley, 133-153.



Greening HE: Sharing Understandings and Practices in Learning for Sustainability.

Nicola Hogan, Goldsmiths Environmental Officer, reports on the progress made in relation to Goldsmiths’ sustainable development commitments: 
Two years ago over 30 members of our academic staff completed an online survey relating to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).  The survey was developed by the Goldsmiths ESD Working Group and its aim was to establish how broadly ESD was being taught.  The outcomes of the survey formed a baseline of data regarding the level at which environmental sustainability was on the agenda and contributed to the shared definition of ESD as the:

“means enabling students to develop the knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes needed to work and live in a way that safeguards environmental, social and economic well-being, both in the present and for future generations”

Survey respondents were also asked to answer a series of questions relating to how they felt graduates of their modules/programmes understood their role in protecting the natural environment.  Overall outcomes of the survey suggested that sustainability is embedded in a variety of ways at Goldsmiths. Where ESD is not “implicitly or explicitly addressed”,  the survey’s respondents appear to acknowledge that it could be addressed straightforwardly. This indicated that there is still scope for improvement in the embedding of ESD throughout the provision.

I am keen to discuss the future of ESD at Goldsmiths and workshops or lectures to students on environmental sustainability.  There is an abundance of information about this subject available online and free to download from various ESD organisations and I would be more than happy to share these resources with interested staff.  Please get in touch if you’d like to explore this further.

Nicola Hogan, Goldsmiths Environmental Officer N.Hogan@gold.ac.uk


Race Equality in Higher Education

David Woodger and Sue Westman’s (StaCs) final report on their Teaching Fellowship project undertaken last academic year (2014-15):

Research, including HEFCE Differences in degree outcomes: key findings (2014) and the Equality Challenge Unit Equality in HE: statistical report (2014), have highlighted a gap in the attainment of Black and racial minority students in HE, even when other factors such as socio-economic status, level of education, age at entry to HE and family educational background are taken into account.  Research sucha as the NUS Race for Equality report (2011) and Runnymede Aiming Higher report (2015) have also shown that Black and racial minority students are less satisfied with their student experience in HE compared to white students.

In order to make significant changes to the patterns and embedded nature of institutional racism prevalent in organisations, we need as academics in our teaching and learning in higher education to consider the approaches we adopt, specifically in teaching and learning methods and models, curriculum and staffing.  The Race Equality in Higher Education (REHE) TaLIC Teaching Fellowship project sought to:

  • identify issues in the teaching and learning environment faced by Black and racial minority students which impact positively or negatively on their engagement, retention and attainment;
  • to gain insight into experiences of teaching and learning around race and racism;
  • to improve the overall student experience;
  • to raise the attainment of black and racial minority students; and to enhance the quality, development and dissemination of innovation and good practice in learning and teaching around race and racism.


The project aims drew upon two main contributions: 1) research drawn from student and staff experience on teaching and learning, including around race and racism 2) exploration of the experiential group work model, adopted in an undergraduate Community Development and Youth Work course, (the latter of which was developed by the Community and Youth programme) and sought to equip students with both experiential and theoretical understandings, enabling them to engage with professionals and organisations to address racism.

We undertook peer research using semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with students chosen across Goldsmiths.  Although there were many positive responses from the sample of 60 students, they also highlighted a range of concerns that impede their learning experience:

  • a lack of diversity in the curriculum including in course reading lists, lectures and tutorials, thereby making their studies difficult to relate;
  • a Eurocentric approach to teaching and learning;
  • teaching and learning around issues of race, equality and diversity are either limited, marginalised or taught on a rather superficial and abstract level;
  • difficulty for black and racial minority students to raise their perspective, as it is not always valued and sometimes tokenized or met with disapproval.

Furthermore, students identified that the above issues left them feeling disengaged and frustrated, feelings further exacerbated by the academic language, which many felt to be both challenging and exclusionary.

Many identified interactive small group work as being an aid to learning, as well as the appointment of more black and racial minority teaching staff.


Goldsmiths’ SU: From Diversification to Liberation

Mollie Kneath (SU Education Officer) offers a brief account of her recent Lunchtime Conversation:


It is difficult to think about the events of the past few months and not become incredibly sad.  This came to a peak a few days ago with Donald Trump winning the American Presidential Election, an event that left me sobbing into a sink full of washing up last night.  His election has shown us that we have not come as far as we like to congratulate ourselves for; it shows that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a racist, a misogynist, a tax dodger, or have been accused of sexual assault, privilege will let you succeed; it shows us that inequality is still embedded into our society like a nasty splinter embedded in someone’s skin. But this doesn’t mean we should stop trying to get that splinter out.

One of the SU’s priority campaigns this year is ‘Liberate my Degree’ and it’s the one that I’m leading on. It’s a campaign that deals with what we learn and how we learn it, and focuses on centering the voices and narratives of communities that have historically and systematically been marginalised – specifically women, BME, disabled, and LGBTQ+ people.The goal is to make meaningful changes to what we learn, how we learn it, and improve the representation of these students in their course lists and curricula, positively changing these students’ university experience..

This campaign has started to get off the ground in the last couple of months. I have done presentations for departments, had one on one conversations with Heads of Department, but on 19th October I took part in a lunchtime conversation with TaLIC (Teaching and Learning Innovation Centre) called From Diversification to Liberation. We discussed everything from why there was a change in terminology, to the overrepresentation of liberation groups on our campus in comparison to the UK more widely, to what we could do going forward. The conversation was with academics and professional services staff from across the university, and their contributions were insightful, useful and most importantly supportive. Because of the hard work put in by our previous Education Officers and our current officer team, ‘liberating the curriculum’ had been incorporated into the Learning and Teaching Strategy.

For hundreds of years universities have been catered solely to straight, white, upper class men – it’s time our degrees adapt to our student body.

Innovative pedagogy in Anthropology: Collaborative Event Ethnography

Dr Gavin Weston reports on the progress of the Teaching Fellowship project being undertaken this academic year (2015-16):


The project I am conducting for the TaLIC fellowship is a Collaborative Event Ethnography which has drawn together a research team of staff, postdocs, PhD students, MA and undergraduates with the aim of conducting research for publication.  While I was a tentative about the project at the beginning as the success of the project was entirely dependent on student volunteers, I need not have worried as the project over-recruited.  I was also concerned regarding what the group would decide to study as the idea was for the students to brainstorm and democratically decide the event they wanted to research. Again, I need not have worried as the students decided to research the Antiques Roadshow, which I never would have thought of myself. The Antiques Roadshow offers a rich terrain to explore the event itself and to focus on intrinsic parts of the event like queuing and the relationships between people, objects and ideas of value. If all goes according to plan we will be conducting the research in June.

The reason I had applied for the fellowship was to establish whether Collaborative Event Ethnography was a viable approach to teaching research methods, which had the fringe benefits of enhancing the publication records and supervisory experience of postgraduates. So far, it is going very well – but I will know more after the fieldwork – so fingers crossed.

Creating the first ROCC (a Recorded Online Careers Course)

Dr Geogina Hosang and Vanessa Freeman, Department of Psychology and Careers respectively, outline the Teaching Fellowship project being undertaken this academic year (2015-16):

We had an idea to create the first ROCC (a Recorded Online Careers Course) as a collaborative project between the Department of Psychology and the Careers Service.  The problem was having the time and resources to put it together!  The TaLIC funding enabled us to secure additional hours and to pay a project fee to a Goldsmiths Media and Communications student to help with the filming and editing.

We realised that we were both spending a lot of time with students individually, answering similar career-related queries and wondered if there was a better way to help.  We are creating a new e-learning psychology (e.g. interactive videos) employability resource for postgraduate students.   Our psychology postgraduates come to us with different needs and levels of experience and ROCC will allow them to access suitable support at the time they need it most.

So far we have had two days of filming – the first covering clinical psychology careers featuring one of our alumni, Isaac Akande, who has been successful in getting onto this competitive doctorate.  We also filmed Caoimhe McAnena who, as well as teaching on the Masters here, is a practising clinical psychologist. Psychology students were enlisted to pose questions to our contributors.

It was great to have Julia dos Santos on board (our director, camera person and editor).  She has the technical expertise that we lack and was able to advise on lighting, sound and background.  She creates a sense of calm when the camera is rolling.  We were also really lucky to get an employer’s perspective on the CV and applications content.    One of the best aspects of the project has been the chance to collaborate with students, academic staff and employers.  It has been hard work but we’ve also had a lot of fun.

An added bonus is that we are developing new skills. There have been many decisions we’ve had make around the process and format of the project.  What bits do we film and who should film them?  Should some content be via webinars and what platform should we use? How can we get the best from Moodle? How do we build in interactivity?

With the development of a toolkit we hope that the project will also be a chance to share good practice College-wide. We are now in the editing phase and putting together the accompanying VLE materials.  ROCC will be available on learn.gold Summer 2016.



Learning Analytics at Goldsmiths: social learning, prediction and swarm intelligence 

Report by Mohammad Al-Rifaie and Matthew Yee King, Computing outlining the Teaching Fellowship project being undertaken this academic year (2015-16):

Learning Analytics

Learning analytics is an increasingly growing applied research with the main goal of utilising various computer science techniques in order to extract useful information from the digital footprint of the online learners.

The attractiveness of learning analytics lies in its potential applicability to the following areas:

  • detecting students who are likely to fail at the early stages of the course
  • finding patterns that indicate strong performance and enhancing systems to support such patterns
  • improving the design and the interface of the online learning systems based on the findings of the learning analytics tools
  • demonstrating the role of social interaction in learning

The benefit of the above-mentioned applications reaches both the students and the instructors. And with the increasing popularity and demand for online learning platforms, the importance of developing learning analytics tools to work as adjunct to the limited human time and resources is undeniable.

In our work, we pay a particular attention to social learning (i.e. how students interact with each other) and its impact on the students performance using the ground truth of whether they pass or fail at the end of the course.

We have recently considered a range of social learning behaviours supported in our recently designed and implemented collaborative learning system which supports students giving and receiving feedback on each other’s developing work and practice. The course was delivered to several thousand students on Coursera during which students were directed onto our social learning environment to take part in group work and assessment activities.

The aim was to argues that the results obtained using the our swarm intelligence algorithm (as a learning analytics tool) indicate the promising potential of predicting students performance based on their social behaviours. This work has a number of potential benefits including designing better social learning systems, designing more effective social learning and assessment exercises, and encouraging disengaged students.

In addition, this work is an important step in addressing our long term goal of evidencing how critical student learning takes place as they give and receive feedback to and from each other on work in progress.

A performance can fail as a piece of theatre, yet excel as a piece of research!

Dr. Göze Saner, Department of Theatre and Performance, outlines the Teaching Fellowship project being undertaken this academic year (2015-16):

A performance can fail as a piece of theatre, yet excel as a piece of research!

I am mapping the place of Practice as Research (PaR) in undergraduate programmes in Drama, Theatre and Performance across the UK. At the moment, I have almost completed the overall survey, after which I will be looking more closely at a few case studies.

What PaR means, in the arts in general and in theatre and performance in particular, is still under scrutiny.  I am a practitioner researcher myself and I am very much invested in debates on how aspects of scholarly research such as knowledge, methodology, and evaluation need to be rethought and perhaps even reconfigured given the specificities of embodied practice.

How do these discussions reflect on the teaching and learning of practice in undergraduate curricula? Are we revising our modes of delivery, assessment, evaluation and feedback based on discoveries or developments in the discipline?

In my survey thus far, I have come across some innovative practices such as performed essays and student-led festivals/symposia.  Yet there seems to be space for much more!  I think we can use a PaR way of thinking:

  • to enhance our inclusivity
  • to make room for different or continuous ways of assessment
  • to encourage students to frame the aims and trajectories of their own practice
  • to fully embrace risk, experimentation, even failure
  • to focus more on process

In an environment where students are increasingly struggling under the pressure of ‘final’ assessments, I believe that an emphasis on PaR would empower students to take charge of their own learning and follow their autonomous journeys, however non-linear or erratic they may be.


I’ll be speaking more about this work at the TaLIC lunchtime seminars (Summer 2016) on Thursday 28th April.