On the 20th and 21st July, Sam Nolan and the ESLTIS gang brought together the third annual ESTLIS conference in Sheffield. It was great to arrive and see some familiar faces as we all sat down over two days to absorb and take part in discussion around collaborative learning.

A panel discussion on ‘Collaborative Leadership: The role of teaching academics in the TEF era’, with Jane Pritchard, Anne Tierney, Alistair Warren and David Read was one of the first sessions. It got slightly heated when a few people were discussing the use of evaluation scores in performance review. Another interesting point raised was to do with the need/demand for continual innovation and ‘how much innovation should we really be carrying out?’ What is wrong with maintaining and evaluating good teaching methods that work? For those from institutions who perhaps did not do so well in the TEF there were some difficult conversations and opinions on the process. While TEF was clearly on people’s minds at this conference, the panel discussion was pretty much where the focus on TEF ended for me. It was nice that it did not dominate the conference and, as the parallel sessions kicked in, we all naturally focused on our teaching and sharing good practice thereafter.

As you do at any conference, I hunted out the familiar Newcastle faces over lunch, Sara Marsham and Alison Graham to be precise. I happened across a few good posters (including Sara and Alison’s on student perceptions and attitudes to reading). One in particular, ‘A collaborative, interactive approach to teaching metabolism’ by Alice Robson, Bristol, was very useful to me and gave good insight in to engaging students with a particularly dry subject matter simply by using interactive technology but with carefully considered, effective questioning. Standing talking to Alice by her poster, we were joined by a thermodynamic chemist with a similar interest in delivering complex pathways #nomultidisciplinebarriersineducation.

Unfortunately, the perils of the parallel session format had prevented me from attending Sara and Alison’s workshop on ‘The future of learning and teaching’ – I have asked and I do hope they run it in Newcastle again! As the sessions unfolded around ‘collaboration’, a common issue/comment that arose was that some students saw their involvement in co-design/delivery in a less positive way and expect staff to lead the teaching and deliver what they need to know. I think it is important we enter into these collaborations to encourage students to lead their learning rather than the teaching. Dominic Henri, Hull, focused on the autonomy needed for group work and provided the students with an excellent framework for successful learning in a group project. It has inspired me to question my students this year, when they meet their seminar group for the first time, in what they believe it takes to work in a group successfully rather than telling them how to do it!


Dominic Henri, Hull. Transitioning pre-certificate students to autonomous learning: independence through group work

As I delivered my presentation on ‘Learning about ageing through sustained collaboration with students and older members of the public’, I had a good pulse of tweets and stole the below photo from David Read. As always, this conference is a supportive environment for any speaker and the support was also evident through social media (incidentally the number of tweets about the conference #ESLTIS17 topped the previous two years).


Dr Luisa Wakeling presenting her work on collaboration

Keeping with the social media theme over dinner, I was very pleased to sit next to Sue Beckingham, Sheffield, who I can only describe as a legend in the use of social media in learning, teaching and scholarship. Sue was there at the conference talking about ‘Celebrating innovative scholarship through social media’. Over the beef and mash, she informed me how important our LinkedIn profiles are in disseminating our achievements and interests, and excitingly, we spoke about a theme for an up and coming LTHE Tweetchat @LTHEchat. This is a twitter forum on a Wednesday evening at 8 pm during academic teaching time.

Before I knew it, Day 2 came and Anne Tierney told us that there is more to a teaching fellow than simply teaching and the term ‘teaching-only’ is a grave misunderstanding of the role. Collaboration is vital to us succeeding in increasing the reputation and value of pedagogical research to institutions. Post coffee and pastry (OK, pastries!), Colin Bryson, Newcastle, with his students, led a great workshop for us to think about how students can drive their own curriculum, not just for a small module but one that could span the three years of a degree programme! Could they cope with this freedom? Could we give them a get out clause after one year? So many considerations for an effective collaborative learning experience.

Vanessa Armstrong, Newcastle, gave a great presentation around matching employer’s expectation of our graduates to what skills graduates actually have – another level of collaboration with stakeholders to ensure the success of our students. To follow, a fabulous workshop on getting published delivered by Jane Pritchard, Bristol, provoked our thoughts on what it takes to make a good article and the points of view of editors and reviewers. I do not think I have written so many useful notes!


Jane Pritchard, Bristol, Workshop: Writing for publication in T&L journals and the ESTLIS17 Special Issue of PESTLHE

I have learnt over these two days that there are so many levels of collaboration. From methods to allow students to work collaboratively in a teaching session, to students and members of the public getting involved with design, delivery and evaluation of the curriculum. There is no optimal level of collaboration and what might work for some students/staff/discipline, may not for others. ESTLIS17 provided a friendly and collaborative environment where ideas about innovations in collaboration were shared, contacts exchanged and tweets galore to remind us all we are part of a much bigger collaboration.

The fourth ESLTIS is in Bristol in 2018 – Newcastle Educators will share details with you when they are released.

Luisa Wakeling, August 2017

School of Dental Sciences, luisa.wakeling@ncl.ac.uk