Engagement and monitoring – M25 winter meeting

On Tuesday 7 December, the winter meeting of the M25 ALT group took place via Zoom with the broad theme of monitoring and engagement, everything from proctoring through to wellbeing, defining what we mean by engagement and the ethical justification for monitoring.

Interesting to see how ‘check ins’ are being widely used. Just asking students ‘how are you’? These can be done in a variety of ways, via a VLE or even a poll at the start of a live session. Matt Jenner demo’d a potential way to enable this via a ‘no code’ web app development platform.

Lots of thought-provoking stuff as usual, but I was particularly interested in the item on feedback from Leonard Houx and Annora Eyt-Dessus from City’s Business School which drew on their experience in learning design and mentioned this new research on approach goals from Sims, Outhwaite and Bennett. The TaLIC team here at Goldsmiths had been having a conversation about retention and motivation earlier in the day – so this was all quite timely. The theory around achievement goals and the difference between mastery and performance goals is clearly something I need to read up on – possibly starting with this work of Hoyert and O’Dell.

Students’ judgement of what is good for their learning is often wrong (eg: writing what you know is more effective than repeated reading – but students prefer the latter approach). Feedback can correct this. Other useful takeaways – present knowledge gaps but not chasms and motivate with regular feedback, be it automated, peer or from a teacher. Provide walkthroughs of how you would solve the problem, vary the difficulty (differentiation) and provide definitions of vocabulary.

So in a nutshell –

Is your teaching too difficult to follow?
Are your students getting enough feedback?


Collaborating on module design using ABC via Teams

You may be familiar with UCL’s ABC workshops for rapid module and curriculum design. They’re an engaging and effective way to redesign a course or map one out from scratch. It’s based on Diana Laurillard’s conversational framework and uses cards to map out the learning journey of the student.

However, given the current situation, it isn’t feasible getting a module team to sit around a table and write on cards.

There are ways to do this online and something we’ve tried at Goldsmiths is using Teams and the built-in ‘planner’. A planner is a series of columns (called buckets for some reason) into which you can add task cards. With a little bit of tweaking you can make this look a little like the ABC cards.

Here’s a video that explains the approach:

There’s more here about ABC learning design from UCL

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).


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.