Photograph of Alex Forsythe

Self-Regulated Learning Approaches in HE; Goal Setting as Conduit to Incremental Learning


Undergraduates prize high-quality formative feedback (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Often these same students lack the range of self-regulatory motivations and skills, including being able to integrate feedback messages (Winstone et al., 2017; 2016). Embedding these incremental gains within an adaptive self-regulatory approach is, therefore, a vital transferable skill. This seminar will report on an intervention to build self-regulatory behaviours and learning, through goal-setting theory and reflection techniques. The programme of research was designed to support pedagogical approaches and counter issues of common method variance (Richardson, Simmering & Sturman, 2009). Participants received individual summary reports reflecting an endorsement of strategies in each phase. Prompting self-reflection, norm-referenced debriefing was provided in subsequent lectures and related virtual tutorials were available supporting content delivery. In addition, students set three goals focussed on implementing messages from previously written feedback. Finally, students reflected on the use of these strategies as part of a module assessment. We sought to investigate whether training in self-regulatory processes, including goal setting, motivated strategies and reflection, increase promote gainful learning. Findings are discussed in relation to the SAGE model of feedback recipience (Winstone et al., 2017). The findings extend the tools that can be employed to promote agentic learning gain. This novel, scalable, approach placed students as active participants in reflecting on and developing their learning approaches. This has potential to be used widely across curricula supporting learning and valuable employability skills.


Alex Forsythe has been an educator and psychologist since 2003 and among her various accomplishments, she is Senior Lecturer at University of Liverpool, Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Head of Professional Certification for the Association of Business Psychology. This combination of expertise and experience is the foundation of the knowledge that Alex applies to identify opportunities and problem solve in innovative and creative ways. She is committed to see her initiatives through, with an infectious enthusiasm to motivate and encourage others to strive towards excellence.

These experiences have shaped Alex into a focused educator who understands the value of partnerships and networks, who strives to help students and academics develop as people and to stay the course. She continues to develop to advanced professional standing in areas relating to human performance and then applying those principles to better support and inform students, academics and organisations on how to manage their performance.
Her work in this area has attracted invited talks and papers. In addition to being Associate Editor Higher Education Pedagogies, Alex is Editor for the award-winning community of practice for psychological literacy, “PsychLiverpool”.

Photo from Chris Adam's Education Excellence Seminar
An interview with...

An interview with… Chris Adams

Chris Adams is a teaching fellow and first-year coordinator in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, where he has been teaching undergraduates for nearly twenty years. He is interested in all aspects of education, from digital learning to practical chemistry, and was recently awarded a BILT Teaching Innovation Grant to try and get first-years to do some real research.

What are the biggest benefits of near-peer learning?

I think that students really appreciate getting to know fellow students from other year groups. Especially with a first year unit, the older student can pass on a whole host of tips for being a successful student. This mirrors what Imogen Moore has recently talked about in law: students like hearing the voice of other students.

Did you encounter any challenges? How did you overcome them?

I was anticipating challenges to the ‘legitimacy’ of being taught by fellow undergraduates, but that has never happened, possibly because they’re not awarding marks. Also, they’re not really teaching – it’s more that they’re facilitating learning, which is why I always call them facilitators. Timetabling is problematic – trying to get students from two different year groups to the same place at the same time is not straightforward.

Do you think near-peer learning could be effective with other areas of the curriculum?

I think that it’s especially useful for what we call ‘transferable’ skills. I would think long and hard before using a similar scheme to teach academic knowledge, though there are many examples of instructor-led near-peer teaching sessions where students help teach factual knowledge, with an academic present to provide oversight and fill in the gaps.

What advice would you give to staff who wanted to set up a similar project?

Make sure that you’ve got a reliable group of facilitators, and write a ‘lesson plan’ for every session. Then, go through each session beforehand with them as participants so that they experience it as a student.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

I like Graham Gibbs ‘53 powerful ideas’ series, available at Bite size chunks of deep  teaching wisdom which should be compulsory reading for anybody teaching in HE.

If you could change one thing about HE in the UK what would it be?

Student fees. When I went to University I went purely because I was interested in chemistry, and my only goal was to learn as much about it as possible. Nowadays, students end up with such a huge debt that there is tremendous pressure on them to do well and get a well-paid job, and that pressure is detrimental to their well-being.

Who was your favourite teacher at school/university and why?

My chemistry teachers at school, Mr Herrett and Mr Waugh. Both of them were old-school masters who delighted in setting fire to things, preferably with as much coloured smoke as possible, and who didn’t get too upset when I blew the bin up, or pointed the Bunsen burner at their hand.

Chris Adams

Using Later-Year Undergrads to Teach Soft Skills to Earlier-Year Undergrads


Universities are increasingly being asked to produce graduates with ‘transferable skills’ that will make them ’employable’, yet people who have spent their whole working life in the University system are often unqualified to do this. Chris will talk about a unit that he has developed in Chemistry in which undergraduates from the later years of the degree program help first-year students start to develop these skills, and about how this can help with the transition to University.


Chris Adams is a teaching fellow and first-year coordinator in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, where he has been teaching undergraduates for nearly twenty years. He is interested in all aspects of education, from digital learning to practical chemistry, and was recently awarded a University teaching innovation grant to try and get first-years to do some real research.

Debbie Cotton

Easing the Transition of First Year Undergraduates through an Immersive Induction Module


An increasingly competitive market in higher education (HE) has encouraged many institutions to engage in curriculum transformation efforts aimed at enhancing student learning, retention and attainment. The start of the first year is recognised as being a challenging time for undergraduates as they negotiate the norms and practices of new academic communities and foster relationships with peers and academics. In this talk, we discuss a comprehensive evaluation of one aspect of a large-scale curriculum development project at the University of Plymouth, the introduction of a four-week immersive induction module. This module (included in almost all programmes across the university) aimed to provide students with discipline-relevant academic skills and networks to support them through the transition period and beyond. The evaluation explored academic and student experiences of this module, as well as impacts on academic self-efficacy, social integration, retention, and attainment of different student groups. Positive outcomes were identified in terms of student attainment (including a narrowing of the gender attainment gap), student retention, and students’ perceptions of preparation and integration. Challenges of this approach included variable approaches to implementation, and the need to manage student expectations for subsequent modules. In some ways, the immersive induction module was a victim of its own success, thus student expectations for subsequent modules proved difficult to fulfil.


Dr Rebecca Turner is an Educational Developer with the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory at the University of Plymouth. Rebecca works to support new and experienced academics, researchers and professional staff to develop their pedagogic practice to enhance the student experience. Rebecca is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academic and an active member of the Staff and Education Development Association, where she is currently serving as a member of their Executive Committee. She has diverse research interests; her main work centres on the theme of transitions, however, she has being involved with a HEFCE Learning Gain Pilot project and has also undertaken work on behalf of the Higher Education Academy to examine the impact of educational development activities. She is currently collaborating with The Student Exchange Partnership to undertake research relating to Student Unions and their work to support teaching and learning. A full list of Rebecca’s research can be found at:

Professor Debby Cotton is Head of Educational Development in the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory (PedRIO), Plymouth University, UK. She is a Principal Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), and was selected to work as an assessor on the UK Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Debby has a doctorate from Oxford University, which focused on teaching controversial environmental issues. She has played a key role in the development of pedagogic research at Plymouth University for over 15 years, and was central to the development of PedRIO, one of the University’s eight research institutes. Debby is a popular invited speaker and has delivered workshops and keynotes on higher education in Europe, China, the US and South Africa. She sits on the editorial board of three journals, has contributed to upwards of 25 projects on pedagogic research and development, and produced more than 70 publications on a wide range of HE teaching and learning issues including sustainability education, student transition, retention and attainment, and internationalisation of higher education. She has recently been called upon to advise on higher education in China, and is engaged in collaborative research with academic colleagues at Zhejiang University and Fudan University.You can find out more about Debby’s work and publications here:

ron barnett delivering his seminar
An interview with...

An interview with… Ron Barnett

Professor Ron Barnett delivered a interesting and amusing seminar on the topic ‘Global Citizenship: Feasible utopia or a dangerous mirage?’ as part of our 2017/18 Education Excellence Series. The seminar looked at the politics and philosophy around this topic and asked us to consider a number of questions around the timing of this topic and what is meant by the term ‘global citizen’ (full seminar can be watched here). Ron has continued the discussion as part of his interview below. 

In what sense is it important for students to engage with the concept of global citizenship?

A genuine higher education is just that, a higher form of education, which extends students in the fullest way; and the idea of global citizenship offers just this kind of prospect, to open to the students a space in which they can situate both their studies and themselves as persons in those infinite horizons.

You suggest the concept of the student as global citizen is messy? What do you mean by this?

The idea of the student as global citizen is messy because there are at least several interpretations of it, with criss-crossings and tensions between some of them (posing issues of the global economy, selfhood, world community, cross-culturality, empathy, worldly understanding, knowledge in a global setting and so on). This is a messy situation.  So a programme for global citizenship requires that fundamental choices be made – as between epistemology and ontology, curriculum and pedagogy, understanding and action and so on.

In what concrete ways could we bring together local and international students to help strengthen the sense of global citizenship at Bristol?

One way would be to look at the development goals of the United Nations (or their latest incarnation) and for students collectively to consider just how a student’s programme offers possibilities for interpretation, action and self-understanding in that context, ie, in helping to take up the challenges of those worldly goals.

Where does the concept of ecology fit in global citizenship?

Ecology speaks of (i) interconnectiveness, (ii) impairments or a falling short in the ‘ecosystems’ of the world, (iii) humanity’s responsibilities thereto. On all three fronts, ecology therefore is itself entangled with global citizenship.  The concept of ecology pushes global citizenship to identify impairments in the large ecosystems of the world – knowledge, economy, culture, learning, persons, the natural environment and society itself – and to identify, too, responsibilities and possibilities for attending to the impairments in those worldly ecosystems.

Is there any particular educational resource or book or article that you would recommend everyone should read?

A book in my library that catches my eye – but which still awaits my proper attention – is ‘Between Naturalism and Religion’ by Jurgen Habermas. It does not deal directly with ‘global citizenship’ but it both engages with many cognate issues – citizenship, liberalism, human rights, religion and so forth – and does so bringing to bear the large and generous horizons so characteristic of Habermas’ work.

Who was your favourite teacher at school/university and why?

This is easy. Terry Moore (who is no longer with us), who was my MPhil and PhD supervisor (at the London Institute of Education).  He modestly admitted to me that he knew nothing about the focus of my interests – in forging a philosophy of higher education – but he (a) gave me space to develop my own thinking, (b) supported and encouraged my efforts, and (c) brought to bear a discipline in my thinking and writing.  I owe him much and was very happy to dedicate one of my books to him.

If you could change one thing about HE in the UK what would it be?

  • Again, this is easy and yet difficult. It would be to require that every programme of higher education could demonstrate that it seriously required (and not frivolously) that their student think.
  • Heidegger remarked that ‘In universities especially, the danger is still very great that we misunderstand what we hear of thinking …’ In other words, we may not even understand properly what is to count as thinking.  And Bertrand Russell was said to remark (perhaps apocryphally) that ‘the English would sooner die than think’ and he added ‘and most of them do’.
  • Serious, searching thinking, that takes nothing for granted and is determined to get to the bottom of things and even emerge into a new clearing, is extremely hard, discomforting and even painful.
  • I see many signs of a reluctance or an inability to think in research, in scholars’ writing, in papers for review, in doctoral students’ theses, in students’ approach to their own learning and so on.
  • We are slipping, unwittingly, into a non-thinking culture. The contemporary French philosopher, Bernard Stiegler, speaks of a general ‘stupidity’.  I wouldn’t go this far, but we can surely talk of a general un-thinkingness.  But a genuine higher education calls for, and even demands, serious thinking.

What one film/book/resource would you like to share with the academic community?

  • Again, this is surprisingly easy. It is George Orwell’s little book ‘Why I write’.  It is a very short book but it can be recommended just on the basis of its first chapter (‘Why I write’) and its last (‘Politics and the English language’).
  • The point here is to care about language and to care about writing and, therefore, for one’s own writing.
  • I fear that I sense little care or concern for writing among scholars these days. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalisation.  There are scholars who write with care, and who have a care for their readers; and there are even scholars who are trying to help to improve the character of the writing of scholars today – such as Steven Pinker, Michael Billig and Helen Sword.  But those efforts are undermined by certain scholars – especially in philosophy and social theory – who are explicit in inveighing against clarity, lucidity and accessibility.  I’ll not name names.
  • But if we do not have a care for writing and a care towards our own writing, why should the reader take seriously anything we have to say?