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  • Writer's pictureJulia Reeve

Shine a Light

As we leave a hugely challenging year behind, here are my top ten positive glimmers of learning and teaching light from 2020.

Sunlight on the sea
This post shares the resources, articles and individuals that inspired me during 2020: a top ten designed to highlight some positives for learning, inclusion and mental health that can be carried forward into 2021. Some are more strictly 'academic' than others, but all share a compassionate and creative ethos: essential qualities for an uncertain and challenging new year.

Number 10 "Reflection for learning: a scholarly practice guide for educators."

Drawing with both hands

An Advance HE publication by a group of Australian academics, this is a hugely useful resource, combining wide-ranging theoretical content on reflection with practical exercises to enhance reflective skills. I particularly enjoyed the drawing activities designed to prompt group reflection and disussion, such as 'Mirror drawing' above. Harvey, M., Lloyd, K., McLachlan, K., Semple, A., & Walkerden, G. (2020) Reflection for learning: a scholarly practice guide for educators.

Number 9 "MIND resources"

The resources on the MIND website have been invaluable over the past year: offering support and guidance for employees, tailored resources for young people and creative activities such as 'Virtual Crafternoons'. As we face the ongoing mental health challenges brought by COVD-19, MIND's informative and accessible resources, as well as their pioneering work to reduce the stigma around mental health in Universities are more essential than ever.

Number 8 "The Big Issue's Self-isolation Preservation Kit"

The Big Issue were ahead of the curve in asking celebrities to share the box sets, music and books that were keeping them going through lockdown. There's also a section on a new skill that they would like to develop: who knew that Christopher Eccleston was learning to write poetry? As well as reading about what the likes of Oti Mabuse and Dynamo have been up to, it's a good exercise to write one of these yourself, and perhaps share with colleagues or students: a way of focussing on the positives of the past year while also raising awareness of social issues.

Number 7 "The Design Museum: Create and Make At Home"

Make your own exhibition worksheet

In the absence of opportunities to attend or run live creative workshops, I've been trying to 'carry on making' at home, both as a way of supporting wellbeing and also as a prompt for reflection and divergent thinking. Some of my favourite creative resources are the range of 'print at home' projects from The Design Museum. Although these are aimed at children and families, they are great for adult learners too: I particularly enjoyed 'design your own exhibition' and 'Build a box house' worksheets.

Number 6 "The Playful University Platform"

I was lucky enough to attend some of the webinars from the Playful University team: so lovely to connect with playful colleagues across the globe! There are many useful resources on the site, including videos and materials from the 2019 Playful University conference. What I found especially interesting were the series of interviews with key playful learning experts in Higher Education found within the 'Playful Voices of Academia' blog: you can hear how playful academics from the UK, Denmark and elsewhere respond to questions such as: "Why should we play as adults?"

Number 5 "The New York Times: 5 Theses on Creativity"

This article, by TV writer and producer Eric Kaplan, is part of a series on 'Why does art matter?' published by the New York Times. In it, he offers five different perspectives on the age-old question of how we define creativity. I really identified with this view of creativity as something universal, that can be applied to all sorts of human activity:

"Creativity permeates life. Creativity fills our lives like ocean water fills the grains of a sand castle — saturating the spaces between this moment and the next, this action and the next, this word and the next. As a consequence, you can be creative when you’re doing pretty much anything..."

Number 4 "Art, Creativity and Play in Learning – #3"

Staying with the notion of creativity, this webinar from the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art provided thought-provoking content on the role of art, creativity and play within a learning context. Contributors were Bo Stjerne Thomsen (Vice President, LEGO Foundation), Artist Ryan Gander and Karen Wilkinson (Director, The Tinkering Studio, Exploratorium, the museum of science, art and human perception, San Francisco). One of the unexpected joys of the move to digital interactions is the access it has given to international experts without the expense of overseas travel. This webinar is a case in point: enjoy! You will need to sign in to Vimeo to view.

Number 3 "Project Zero's Thinking Routine Toolbox"

This frankly amazing resource from the Harvard Graduate School of Education offers a highly useful set of resources on different 'thinking routines' to support student learning. These range from 'Core thinking routines' to (my personal favourite) 'Thinking with art or objects'. For each section there is a plentiful array of downloadable activity sheets: a rich resource to support a variety of thinking skills, both critical and creative.

Number 2 "With the Passing of Sir Ken Robinson, His Call For Creativity Lives On"

This Forbes article by Brandon Busteed mourns the loss of educational luminary Ken Robinson, whose TED talk, 'Do Schools Kill Creativity?', is the most watched of all time. Ken Robinson's book, "Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative" has had a major influence on me, and I applaud his powerful call for more divergent rather than convergent thinking in education. As the article puts it: "The world’s most pressing problems aren’t likely to be solved by applying a fixed set of rules to arrive at a single correct answer. They’ll be solved more so through creativity and divergent thinking where our imaginations can run unfettered, educational disciplines can live outside their silos, and any number of potential solutions might be generated." Amen to that.

Number 1 Keynote by Professor Bugewa Apampa, The Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2020: "The Pursuit of Meaningful Learning: The Environment, Curriculum and Student"

Bugewa Apampa keynote slide Meaningful Learning

The Advance HE Teaching & Learning Conference was rather different this year: in an online 'auditorium' and with a range of pre-recorded sessions to dip into. The highlight for me was Bugewa Apampa's keynote: she talked passionately about the importance of nurturing positive emotions, drawing on the work of positive psychology scholar Barbara Fredrickson. Bugewa also discussed the way that truly meaningful learning can support inclusion and cultural competency. I was bowled over by this, it was refreshing to hear words like compassion and empathy used in the context of UK Higher Education. Sadly Bugewa's keynote isn't available as a recording (come on Advance HE!), but if you get a chance to hear her speak, don't miss it. Bugewa adapted this this quote from Maya Angelou to the student perspective, which got a very warm reaction in the live chat and on social media: "I’ve learned that people (e.g. students) will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Wishing you all the best for 2021,


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