ABC Learning Design: presentations and Q&A at UCL

Emilie Poletto-Lawson is an Educational Developer (based in Academic Staff Development) and a BILT fellow working on the BILT theme of inclusive assessment. 

This blog of a follow up from the blog post “ABC Learning design: workshop at UCL” which presented how the ABC Learning Design approach works. In this post, we will explore how colleagues at other institutions are using the kit.

First of all, many thanks to Clive Young and Nataša Perović for giving away a complete kit to all participants. It was extremely useful when reflecting back on the day. It is worth noting that all the ABC resources are available on line under a Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

Here is what the kit looks like:

This photo shows the content of the kit: “Tweet and Share” document, set of cards, document with additional activities, blue tack, stickers, a blank action plan, a guide on how to run the workshop and a recap document.

I personally find the material very inviting and a great testimony to the hard work of all involved. After our hands-on session, Clive and Nataša opened the second half of the morning with a history of the project and update on what it is now and where it is being used. This was then followed by presentations by colleagues from other institutions who shared their take on the method.

Gill Ritchie and Ben Audley from Queen Mary, University of London

First of all, Gill Ritchie from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), presented how the ABC for Learning Design has become part of their PGCert Academic Practice programme. In the module “Teaching with learning technologies ”, participants are introduced to the technology wheel and a set of amended cards that contain the technology available at QMUL. They are then expected to design an online activity by December, that they then try out between January and April before writing up their reflection on how it went for their PGCAP.

The image is the technology wheel created by the ABC team based on the 6 learning types. Available here.

The updated version of the wheel by QMUL aims at highlighting what is available and supported by experts within the institution while being less daunting than the pedagogy Wheel Model  developed by Allan Carrington based on Bloom’s taxonomy that can be seen as offering an overwhelming amount of options. The University of Reading also created its own version (link  here ).

The wheel and activity types cards from the ABC kit are used with participants to discuss possibilities within their teaching leading to what sounded like fruitful conversations. If you are interested in finding out which technological tools the University of Bristol supports, you can contact the Digital Education team .

Gill’s presentation was then followed by her colleague’s, Ben Audsley, dental electronic resources manager in the School of Dentistry at QMUL. Ben supported lecturers with the transition of a module on dental public health to be fully online for distance learning. His approach was to look at the topics for each week and to then think about the technology that could be introduced to support learning. He used the kit focusing on the online suggestion of activities. It was interesting to note that his biggest challenge was to keep staff on track.

Luke Cox from the London School of Economics

Luke Cox, from the London School of economics, introduced a very interesting element in the process: using a critical friend. His presentation was on designing distance learning process and the way he approached it was to request having the course designer and a critical friend together to work and reflect on the design. He identified, actually, getting that critical friend in the same room at the same time as the designer as the biggest challenge.

Arthur Wadsworth, Moira E Sarsfield, Shireen Lock and Jessica Cooper from Imperial College London

The presentation by colleagues from Imperial College London was a great follow up to Luke’s as further to the critical friend, they suggested involving graduate teaching assistant (GTA). I believe this would be a fantastic opportunity to give GTAs a voice and to make them feel more strongly part of the community so long as their time is compensated and at an appropriate point of their studies. Colleagues at Imperial identified that lecturers and teaching fellows are not ready for the 25% module transformation in engineering objective they have. They also added a “fixed approach to teaching and learning” as a key issue. Their solution is to show a sign of remission from leadership around the area of workload and availability.   

Peter Roberts from Goldsmiths, University of London

Peter Roberts from Goldsmiths, University of London, adapted the cards so that instead of names of activities they list verbs. He then adapted the concept to an online activity on Trello , creating a deck with the learning activities (acquisition, collaboration…) to then drag and drop to create their design online.

This image shows an example of Trello to plan your weeks of teaching. Thank you to Peter Roberts for sharing this screen capture.

He also recommended the use of “Learning Designer ” developed by Laurillard at UCL, originally for school teachers.

Another online approach was mentioned in the questions following the presentation. The University of Lincoln has developed “Digital Learning Recipes” to support staff with the technological side of the design. The website gives examples of activity for each learning type and it is then followed by extra resources on the tools available and guides to use them.

And those were just lessons learnt from the morning!

Many thanks to Clive Young and Nataša Perović for sharing the ABC learning design and providing a kit to take home as well as inviting colleagues from other institutions to share their take on the method. It was a very insightful day and I look forward to finding out what’s next.

500 Words

Pipe cleaners, pick’n’mix and colouring in – active learning goes back to basics!

Author: Andrew Doherty

School/ Centre: Centre for Applied Anatomy, University of Bristol

Andrew Doherty discusses his use of unusual teaching tools in his anatomy undergraduate classes and their impact on learning.

There’s a phrase from the media that comes to mind while wandering around the campus … young people are ‘buried in their phones all the time’. This may well be true – students do spend a lot of time on their phones. I’m not entirely sure what they’re doing half the time, but the modern digitally native student seems to be lost without one. Mobile phones are after all a font of all knowledge – an information centre with an endless library of books, articles, lecture notes, videos … and that’s before we get to the social media sites with Facechat and Snapbook …. I think!

This has given rise to the notion that students of today prefer to use digital media for their learning and that as long as we can provide our learning materials via the web, all will be well because they can all learn digitally. I’m not convinced that this is true and, while I am very interested in providing engaging and interesting digital resources for our students, I also take the view that hands-on, practical activities can sometimes provide the best tool for deep learning of complex information. The interaction between hands and brain is as crucial for learning now as it has ever been.

So, when myself and a colleague, Dr Jo Howarth, were given the job of re-designing the first year curriculum for the Neuroscience programme, the chance was there to re-think what we teach – and more importantly, how we teach it. We have introduced a raft of new hands-on workshops ranging from making pictures from pick’n’mix sweets, building models with pipe cleaners, drawing pathway diagrams with coloured pens – and yes, even using those ubiquitous smartphones to make stop-motion animations to illustrate network dynamics. After all – why shouldn’t learning be fun? We try to engage students in the process of making things themselves to help them synthesise their own knowledge and to encourage them to learn for themselves. Students seem to like what we are doing and, more importantly, are learning the information we want them to learn.

All the activities we have introduced also have an element of personal research to help students gain skills in selecting relevant and appropriate information from the ocean of stuff that sits out there in the big wide world – and the evaluations we have carried out have led to some surprising results. For instance, in providing students with a range of digital resources to learn about aspect of spinal cord anatomy, ranging from you tube videos to manipulatable 3D computer models, what resource did they choose? The good old text book – that’s right – the paper one that sits on the bookshelf!

So, are our students ready for the digital world? In their social space, indeed they are – but when it comes to learning materials, the hands-on approach still has a long way to go before it runs out of steam – pipe cleaner makers, be warned!


Figure 1. Examples of activities used in the re-design of the 1st year neuroscience curriculum. A range of hands-on activities have been used in the revised teaching on the neuroscience programme. These range from (A) using pick’n’mix sweets to make an image, (B) using pipe cleaners to create models, (C) drawing pathway diagrams with coloured pens. Each image has been created by students studying on the neuroscience programme.