The many hats of a Learning Developer

#becomingeducational Year of Learning Development: The Many Hats of the Academic Mentor/Learning Developer

We know that for many people this is the start of an amazing year and an amazing journey… These are the people who are either becoming Academic Mentors or Learning Developers for the first time… and/or those who are incorporating more LD into their current university position(s).

Learning Development offers energy, excitement and challenge: no two days are ever the same – sometimes, no two hours are ever the same; we are kept on our toes from moment to moment …

Here we are sharing Helen Webster’s reflections on the many hats of the learning developer.. Helen captures the energy and dynamism of our jobs – and we hope that you find it as interesting and entertaining as did we.

Please add a Comment – pass it on – keep the conversation going.

Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

Learning Development’s a varied job- we’re never bored! Every hour could bring a different student, studying a different discipline with a different need. And, I’d argue, we too are different each hour in response.

I’ve addressed the question of what is a learning developer from various angles, but this time I’d like to look at how we’re more than just one thing. In our work, we play a number of roles, and wear a number of hats, depending on what suits the circumstances. At the ALDinHE Regional Development day at Newcastle University back in January, and again at a meeting of National Teaching Fellows in LD hosted by Sally Brown and Giskin Day at Imperial College, I encouraged participants to explore this diversity with an activity which looked at their responses to a number of roles. I distributed a number of cards, each with a different hat on. Those hats…

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Teaching Introverts

#becomingeducational Year of Learning Development: teaching introverts
Today we are happily re-blogging Helen Webster’s provocative post on teaching introverts.
Why – she asks – do we insist that people work together?
Why not allow some students to work on their own?
Or – perhaps – signpost your session – introverts one way – extroverts the other… and build the learning form there?
What we particularly like about this post – apart from making us think about the pain we inflict on introverts – is the ultimate point about allowing students themselves more choice in the way that they work.

rattus scholasticus

“Get into pairs and discuss with the person next to you…”

It’s the go-to model for workshop activities. One to ones are by definition dialogues, and we also try to capitalise on the social constructivist nature of learning in our group sessions. The whole of my PGCE beautifully modelled social constructivist principles in the way it was taught. And the amount of independent learning in Higher Education means there’s plenty of time for students to work on their own outside class, if they want to. However, I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how many of my workshops include paired or group discussion as a first resort.

Why? Because I can’t stand it myself as a student.

I’m an introvert. I like to think things through carefully and work out what I think and how to articulate it before I then bounce that idea off others. I don’t find that starting off…

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Helping students write a literature review – Part II

#becomingeducational Year of Learning Development

The key focus of #becomingeducational posts this year will be on theories, case studies, strategies and resources designed to help those new to Learning Development; those with more Learning Development type responsibilities whilst their major focus might be with librarianship or another academic discipline; and/or discipline academics who might just want to develop their ability to support their students’ learning through emancipatory and empowering practice.

This re-blog from ‘Doctoral Writing’ explores how we might help students conceptualise and undertake Literature Reviews.

Do leave your own comments!

All the best,
Sandra & Tom

DoctoralWriting SIG

This is Part II of the guest post by Cecile Badenhorst of Memorial University in Canada. For an extended discussion of these ideas, go to her article on “Literature reviews, citations and intertextuality in graduate student writing”

In the first part of this blog post, I suggested that explicitly teaching students the genre of literature reviews and the many ways experienced academic writers use citation practices can help students understand this challenging genre. In this post, I want to focus on complexity in literature reviews. These papers require complex higher order thinking skills and the ability to critique, evaluate and review knowledge in sophisticated ways. Reproducing this complexity is often the most challenging for students. It is even more challenging for those of us involved in teaching this genre: How do we make the complexity more visible and accessible?

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Switching Roles

#becomingeducational The Year of Learning Development – the many roles that we adopt …

In this post the amazing Helen Webster explores the different roles that we inhabit as Learning Developers – teacher/listener/coach/mentor – pointing out that these different roles all require different behaviour from us – and will therefore necessitate different behaviours in the student with whom we are working.
What Helen asks is: how will the student know? How will they know which role we are inhabiting in any one time – and how will they know the sort of behaviour that we are expecting from them?
These are such excellent questions and go to the very heart of Learning Development practice.
When LDing – we tend not to be ‘teachers’ knowing the right answer – we are more likely to be listeners with dollops of coaching and mentoring – and our trick is to help the student feel comfortable in the spaces that we create – and to feel empowered to inhabit those spaces meaningfully – as they become the academics that they want to be.
This is particularly pertinent and thought-provoking for those new to LD who may have only just found themselves comfortable with a teaching role – and now find they have to inhabit this much more liminal and tricky ‘third space’.
Thanks again to Helen for sharing her thoughts – do add your own Comments.
Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

In the course of a one-to-one session, a skilled Learning Developer might take on a number of different roles in turn, each ‘hat’ we wear carefully chosen to meet the need arising out of the conversation as it progresses. As we switch roles, adopting a range of techniques suited to each function, there’s one more thing we need to bear in mind: the role of the student.

If we are the teacher, the student is pupil. If we are coach or mentor, they are our coachee or mentee. If we are listener, they’re the one who needs to talk. Our roles might be taken on in reactive fashion, in response to the student’s first taking a position, but it’s more likely that we’re the one making that choice, and that choice determines and shapes the student’s counterpart response. The question is, do they know that?

Unlike a counsellor, we…

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#becomingeducational Year of Learning Development: reflection for retention

Re-blogged from TeachThought: 

15 Reflection Strategies To Help Students Retain What You Just Taught Them

by Terry Heick

Reflection is a natural part of learning.

We all think about new experiences–the camping on the car ride home, the mistakes made in a game, or the emotions felt while finishing a long-term project that’s taken months to complete.

Below I’ve shared 15 strategies for students to reflect on their learning. Modeling the use of each up front can go a long way towards making sure you get the quality of work you’d like to see throughout the year–and students learn more in the process.

This post pairs nicely with 8 Reflective Questions To Help Any Student Think About Their Learning.

15 Reflection Strategies To Help Students Retain What You Just Taught Them

1. Pair-Share

Pair-share is a classic learning strategy where students are paired, and then verbally ‘share’ something that will help them learn new content, deepen understanding, or review what they already know. It can also be used as a quick and dirty assessment tool, as the conversations generally reflect a level of understanding the teacher can use gauge mastery and plan further instruction.

2. Sentence Stem-based responses

Sentence-stems are great because they’re like training wheels–or to mix a metaphor, tools to coach students into thinking and speaking in certain patterns. For example, you can implore students to ‘think critically,’ but if they don’t have even the basic phrasing of critical thinking (e.g., ‘This is important because…’), critical thinking will be beyond their reach.

You can also see our sentence stems for critical thinking here for other examples (you don’t have to buy the materials to see the samples).

3. Layered Text

Layered text is something I’ve meant to write about for years and never have. A layered text is a digital document that is filled with hyperlinks that communicate, well, just about anything: Questions students have, opportunities for further inquiry, odd references and allusions that reflect the schema students use to make meaning, and so on. (Rap Genius does a version of this.)

By adding ‘layers’ of meaning to a text through meaningful hyperlinking, students can reflect back on anything, from a pre-assessment journal entry that demonstrated their lack of understanding, to a kind of ‘marking up’ of what they learned when, and from where.

4. Tweet

140 characters forces students to reflect quick and to the point–great for brief bursts of reflection or hesitatant writers who would struggle to write meaningful journal entries or essays.

In fact, you can combine twitter with #6 for twitter exit slips.

5. 3-2-1

3-2-1 is a tried-and-true way to frame anything from a pair-share or journal entry (e.g., ask students to write 3 things they think they know, 2 things they know they don’t know, and one thing they’re certain of about a topic) pre-assessment to a post-assessment (e.g., list three ways your essay reflected mastery of skill X, two ways skill Y still needs improving, and one way you can make your argument stronger in the next five minutes) to a reflection of the post-assessment.

6. Exit Slips

Whether you call them exit slips, exit tickets, or something I’ve never heard, asking students to briefly leave behind some residue of learning–a thought, a definition, a question–is a powerful teaching strategy. In fact, ‘exit-slip teaching’ literally drives how I use data in the classroom. Asking students to drop some bit of reflection of the learning process on a chair by the door on the way out is a no-brainer.

Some examples?

How did you respond emotionally to something you struggled with today? What did you find most surprising about _____? How did your understanding of _______ change today? What about _____ still confuses you or makes your curious?

7. Write-Around

I love write-arounds–easy ways for students to write asynchronously and collaboratively. And the writing fragments students use don’t have to be prose–certain key vocabulary and phrases can help students reflect, but most importantly in a write-around, help students learning from one another as each student is able to read other responses before creating theirs.

8. Sketch

Whether by sketch-notes or doodles, allowing students to draw what they think they know, how they believe their learning has changed, or some kind of metaphorical pathway towards deeper understanding is a great learning strategy for students that tend towards creative expression, and a non-threatening way for struggling students to at least write something down on paper you can use to gauge understand and plan your (their) next step.

9. Podcast

Through podcasting as a reflecting strategy, students will talk about their learning while recording. If you want to keep it ‘closed-circuit’ (not published), or actually push it to a public audience of some kind depends on the learning and students and privacy issues and so on.

This can also be simply an audio file recorded and uploaded to a private YouTube channel that’s shared with teachers or parents.

10. Brainstorming

Brainstorming can be an effective reflection strategy because it disarms issues with other approaches. For hesitant writers, journaling may not work beucase the writing process could overwhelm the learning. Podcasting may not work for shy students, Pair-Share may not work well if students are paired effectively, and so on.

Brainstorming is much simpler. Students could take an allotted time to write down everything they remember about a topic. Or, they could brainstorm questions they still have (things they’re confused or curious about). They could even brainstorm how what what they learned literally connects with what they already know by creating a concept map.

11. Jigsawing

Jigsawing is a grouping strategy where a task, concept, or something ‘larger’ is broken down into small puzzles pieces, and students in groups analyze the small puzzle piece, then share out to create the puzzle at large. Using this approach for reflection is seamless: Among other approaches, you can prompt students in groups to gather and share questions they have (you could group by readiness/ability, for example) in groups, and then choose one question that they weren’t able to answer among themselves with the whole class (anonymously–no one has to know who wrote the question).

12. Prezi

Think of a cross between a sketch, collage, and presentation, and you have a prezi. Engaging–though distracting and overwhelming if the reflection you need is minor–reflection tool that allows students to create an artifact of learning for their digital portfolios.

13. Vlog

This reflection strategy is close to ‘Podcasting’ and even has something in common with pair-sharing. By reflecting through vlog’ing, students simply talk about their learning to a camera.

This approach would be successful for students that love talking to a camera, but less so for others (who, if they have to talk at all about their learning, may prefer podcasting–or simply recording audio files that are never published.

14. Collage

You could do a normal collage of learning reflections, but Amultimedia collage is also possible–maybe a sketchnote with a voiceover recorded as a YouTube video to share as a quick presentation with the class (or absent students).

15. Journaling

The University of Missouri-St Louis offers 3 kinds of journals that demonstrate the different possibilities of the otherwise vanilla-sounding ‘journaling.’

1. Personal Journal – Students will write freely about their experience. This is usually done weekly. These personal journals may be submitted periodically to the instructor, or kept as a reference to use at the end of the experience when putting together an academic essay reflecting their experience. (Hatcher 1996)

2. Dialogue Journal – Students submit loose-leaf pages from a dialogue journal bi-weekly (or otherwise at appropriate intervals) for the instructor to read and comment on. While labor intensive for the instructor, this can provide continual feedback to students and prompt new questions for students to consider during the semester. (Goldsmith, 1995)

3. Highlighted Journal – Before students submit the reflective journal, they reread personal entries and, using a highlighter, mark sections of the journal that directly relate to concepts discussed in the text or in class. This makes it easier for the instructor to identify the student to reflect on their experience in light of course content. (Gary Hesser, Augsberg College).

Thanks again to Terry Heick and TeachThought for the post that we have re-blogged here!!


Learning Developer as Therapist?

#becomingeducational Year of Learning Development: learning developer as therapist?

We are so happy that our year of learning development is coincidental with Helen Webster dusting off her excellent blog and delivering so many thought-provoking, informative and just darn useful posts on the what, why and how of learning development.
Helen is doing this as she leads a Writing Centre and contributes to ALDinHE’s ( Professional Development Working Group and the development of a range of PD opportunities for those in Learning Development roles across the sector.
How lucky are we?
Anyway – in this post Helen muses on the role of learning developer through the lens of the notion of a therapeutic community.
Add your Comments?
Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

There was recently a very interesting discussion on the LDHEN list about the role of Learning Development in shaping the university as a therapeutic community. I was interested in the word ‘therapeutic’ as it relates to Learning Development, and my contributions were largely about whether what we do could be construed as therapy, given that we sometimes work in similar ways to therapists such as counsellors. I pursued this line of thinking further offline, in discussion with other colleagues but also with my family members, who are clinical psychologists and social workers and very insightful on the topic. This was really useful in helping me further articulate what I think LD is, and where the boundaries are. I’ve reproduced some of my comments on the email list here together with the further thoughts from discussions with my family and colleagues.

I don’t think Learning Development is a therapeutic activity. For…

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What makes our writing ‘academic’?

#becomingeducational The year of sharing what it means to be a Learning Developer
As we said in our previous post – this is the year that we are being particularly tasked with working with librarians, personal tutors and other academics in re new aspects to their roles which include what we call Learning Development (but which is variously discussed as developing study and academic skills – fixing writing problems – improving retention – supporting at risk students – giving study skills advice).
We know that a key aspect of our work when Learning Developers was working with students on their assignments…
and that whilst for academic staff the main concern was the grammar, punctuation and spelling of the students – the main concern for the students themselves was a fear of getting it wrong – a fear of failure – and the fear of being made to look and feel a fool.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between tutor concerns and those of students – we are re-blogging this post from Julia Molinara – where she interrogates the nature of academic writing itself.
Perhaps this indicates a way of working with our own students?
Do share your strategies for helping students develop their emerging graduate/academic writing identities…
All the best,
Sandra & Tom

DoctoralWriting SIG

Our guest blogger this week, Julia Molinari, is an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) Tutor and PhD Researcher at the University of Nottingham in the UK. She is bilingual English/Italian and teaches academic writing to Home and International undergraduate and postgraduate students. Her PhD research focuses on ‘what makes writing academic’ and is supervised by the School of Education and the Department of Philosophy. She blogs at and tweets @serenissimaj and @EAPTutorJM.

By Julia Molinari

When you ask anyone this question—be they initiated or not—their answers will roughly cluster around the following features: its formality, linearity, clarity, lexical density, grammatical complexity, micro-macro structure (i.e., from paragraphs to whole-text organisation), intertextuality and citation, objectivity, meta-discursivity (Learnhigher; Bennett 2009; Bennett 2015, 6-8).

As someone who teaches academic writing to undergraduates and postgraduates with English as a first or additional language, I hear such answers all the time. And it’s…

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