Reflecting on the contribution educational developers can make to decolonising curricular 

Jennie Winter, Rebecca Turner & Oliver Webb

Decolonisation is one of the most talked about social justice agendas in Higher Education (Liyanage, 2020). Decolonisation is a socio-political movement which challenges Eurocentrism and post-colonial notions of power. This has multiple implications for HE institutions, where the content and delivery of curricula are often the products of colonial legacy and therefore legitimise certain world views and social norms over others (Arday et al., 2020).  This can result in emphasising European and Caucasian belonging over other groups nationalities and ethnicities, suggesting that some students belong in HE more than others.

Educational Developers have a lot to offer in support of this agenda, we are aware of decolonisation pedagogic literatures, how these processes impact on students, and how academics can struggle to make sense of this and make informed changes to their practice (Liyanage, 2020).  In our institution the educational development team were asked to develop and deliver an audit of current practice in (de) colonised curricula as a condition of our Access and Participation Plan.  We used this as a mechanism of change across the institution framing it as both supporting the APP, but also to progress the OFS requirement to eliminate attainment gaps by emphasising the links between decolonisation, belonging and attainment.

We wanted to create an initial discussion amongst academics and students about characteristics of a (de) colonised curriculum to help establish what student perceptions of current curriculum practices were, and to understand what a decolonised curriculum might look like. To do this the research team developed a survey, based on existing open access resources, which was completed by 99 staff and 290 students across four schools creating a benchmark of current practice. Our findings suggest differences in how aspects of curricula are perceived by staff and students, and between White and Minority Ethnic (ME) student groups and these are detailed in the publication.

For us as educational developers this provided a valuable evidence base on which we could build and laid the foundations for subsequent work.  This evidence base stimulated conversations across academic departments, professional services (including Careers and the Library), and with students and the Student Union, to identify meaningful actions that could be taken to further efforts to decolonise practice.  We adopted a multi-pronged approach, both developing resources as well as working with people, dedicating substantial time to sharing ideas and local expertise.  We developed a guidance for decolonising assessment and reading lists which could be used independently by staff to reflect on, and enhance that practice.  Students were integral to this work; we hosted micro-internships where students undertook discrete pieces of work, capturing local good practice and explore national practice, to ensure the student voice underpinned the changes that were implemented.  Taking a systematic approach to decolonisation, by building an evidence base and implementing change in collaboration with staff and students, enabled to provide a cross institutional response.  Though this marks the beginning of the journey to decolonise practice at Plymouth, it was a valuable first step on which we continue to build.


Arday, J., Belluigi, D., & Thomas, D. (2020). Attempting to break the chain: Reimaging inclusive pedagogy and decolonising the curriculum within the academy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 53(3), 298–313.

Liyanage, M. (2020). Miseducation: Decolonising curricula, culture and pedagogy in UK universities (Debate Paper 23). Higher Education Policy Institute.

Jennie Winter is a Professor of Academic Development at Plymouth Marjon University. She is interested in a broad range of academic development themes including education for sustainable development, decolonisation of the curriculum, evaluating teaching development and evaluation methodologies. You can find out more about Jennie’s work here.


Rebecca Turner is an Associate Professor in Educational Development at the University of Plymouth and a Principal Fellow of the HEA.  Rebecca’s work addresses areas including widening participation, student voice and curriculum change.  Rebecca also is the chair of SEDA Papers Committee.


Oliver Webb is an Educational Developer at the University of Plymouth. He is interested in the intersection between demographic factors, curriculum design, and students’ experiences and outcomes in Higher Education.

Building Student Mental Wellbeing through Curriculum Design

Whilst we are all familiar with the term “curriculum”, how much thought do we put into its impact on student mental wellbeing, both positive and negative?

As Hughes et al (2018) point out, the curriculum is the one guaranteed point of contact a student has with the university. So, clearly a curriculum designed to support student wellbeing would be of benefit. Indeed, you may already think/believe your curriculum incorporates all aspects of student wellbeing, because it demonstrates:

  • Coherent, structured and scaffolded curriculum which makes clear links with future learning
  • Modes of assessment and methods of assessment which help students develop a learning focused approach to study – Assessment for Learning, no less!
  • Development of safe classroom environments, where errors are not punished or mocked.

But, and there is always a but… the story doesn’t end there.   
Even if we get all the above right, the risk is that without curriculum coherence across modules, student wellbeing may still be jeopardised. For example, poor planning can lead to assessment bunching, which can quickly counteract any benefit to students. This can lead to learning environments which foster unhealthy behaviours; lack of sleep, unhealthy eating and long hours in front of a screen. 

We have been talking about this for many years and we know that these issues can be overcome with sound pedagogy and good curriculum design. The toolkit offers a timely reminder and sense check.

The Education for Mental Health toolkit can help new colleagues, and experienced colleagues, consider their curriculum.  It unravels the terminology around mental wellbeing and breaks down the myths which cause barriers to curriculum change. It provides accessible, straight talking, evidence informed guidance on developing curriculum which stimulates learning.

Meanwhile, for those supporting curriculum design, the ”Curriculum design for mental health and wellbeing” offers tried and tested activities which can be used to help colleagues consider changes to their curriculum which will in turn help student mental wellbeing.

Utilising the resources, and considering the student perspective, can transform the curriculum; ensuring our HE institutions are safe, nurturing and encouraging places to learn, and work. So, let us continue to strive to design curriculum which enables students to thrive and flourish.


Hughes G, Panjwani M, Tulcidas P, Byrom N. (2018) Student mental health: The role and responsibilities of academics. Oxford: Student Minds.

Hughes, G, Upsher, R, Nobili, A, Kirkman, A, Wilson, C, Bowers Brown, T, Foster, J, Bradley, S and Byrom, N (2022) Education for Mental Health. Online: Advance HE

For more information and resources to support student mental wellbeing and the curriculum go to  “Education for Mental Health: Enhancing Student Mental Health through Curriculum and Pedagogy”. and “Curriculum design for mental health and wellbeing: guidance and resources for learning and teaching development programmes in higher education”.  This project was developed as a partnership between the University of Derby, King’s College London, Aston University, Student Minds and Advance HE. It was funded by the Office for Students via a Challenge Competition.

Professor Sally Bradley is an Honorary Professor at Sheffield Hallam University where she worked for 15 years prior to joining Advance HE (formerly the HEA). She recently retired from Advance HE , where she was a Senior Adviser (Professional Learning and Development), having initially been appointed as Academic Lead for Fellowships and UKPSF at the HEA. She is a motivational speaker and qualified Executive Coach. She continues to work as an Associate for Advance HE, primarily working with strategic leaders of learning and teaching. She is also an Advisor to the Joint Training Requirements Authority, Defence Academy of the UK and a member of the Steering Committee of the Technician Commitment.  She holds a Senior Fellowship of SEDA (SFSEDA) and a Principal Fellowship (PFHEA).

With acknowledgement to Elizabeth Mullenger, reading Public Health and Community Studies and Coventry University Curriculum Change Intern, for her invaluable comments.

Happy 30th Birthday, SEDA!

On May 19th 1993 SEDA was formed from a merger between the Standing Conference on Educational Development (SCED) and the Staff Development Group of the Society for Research into Higher Education SRHE SDG). Soon SEDA Scotland, Flexible Learning in Higher Education and the Association of Educational and Training Technology (which become the Learning Technology Group) linked with it. Also in 1993 SEDA was one of the founding associations of the International Consortium for Educational Development.

Over the last 30 years, SEDA has been at the forefront of activities, support, professional recognition and resources for those who lead and inspire change in higher education. Initially we worked mainly with those in formal ‘educational development’ roles but our SEDA community now embraces a wide range of colleagues working to improve learning and teaching in higher education including academics, learning technologists, librarians, learning developers, students and senior managers. To this end, we also have good relationships with other sector organisations such as ALT, Jisc, Advance HE and ALDinHE.

The nature of higher education has changed considerably in the last three decades with the introduction of fees, removal of the cap on student numbers and regulation through the Office for Students. SEDA has been a constant presence through these times of change and adapted its provision to ensure it remains up-to-date and relevant. This includes opportunities for sharing practice and networking through online and face-to-face events and communities of practice, the SEDA Fellowship Scheme for the professional recognition of those who support, lead and inspire educational change (and the soon-to-be-launched Student Partnership Impact Award), accreditation of courses through our Professional Development Framework, enabling scholarship through our grants and journal (Innovations in Education & Teaching International), other publications such as SEDA Specials, Papers, Focus, book series and our renown magazine Educational Developments.

As a charitable organisation, our mission is to enhance HE, through educational and professional development, for the benefit of students, staff and the wider public. SEDA does this by offering scholarly and accessible developmental resources and opportunities to everyone involved in positive educational change and innovation in HE.

We are also driven and guided by our underpinning Values:

  • Developing understanding of how people learn
  • Practising in ways that are scholarly, professional and ethical
  • Working with and developing learning communities
  • Valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity
  • Continually reflecting on practice to develop ourselves, others and processes.

Many of our activities are open access to enable the widest possible sharing, learning and development. In order to support our work as a charitable organisation we also encourage institutions and individuals to join SEDA as members which opens up further opportunities for networking, professional development through contributing to the work of SEDA (e.g. as committee members or at the AGM), resources and discounts on events and publications.

I have been involved with SEDA since I attended its December conference in 1996, an event which turned out to be a career-enhancing and -influencing experience a week into my first post-PhD job as manager for a HEFCE-funded project on Earth Science Staff Development. I’m delighted to be able to contribute back to an organisation that has given me so much over the years. I look forward to celebrating our 30th Birthday at our face-to-face conference on 19th May 2023 and to many more years working with and benefiting from the fabulous SEDA community.

Helen King is Professor & Director of Learning Innovation, Development & Skills at Bath Spa University and currently co-Chair of SEDA with Clare Saunders of St Mary’s University. She holds a Senior Fellowship of SEDA, a National Teaching Fellowship and is a Principal Fellow of the HEA. She also enjoys trail-running and playing Bluegrass banjo (though not at the same time!).

Twitter: @drhelenking


Online learner engagement and teaching-learning perceptions

COVID-19 struck suddenly, almost overnight. As lecturers adapted, we identified the need for research about online learning to optimise student learning, and to enhance lecturer practise. Throughout the unique two-plus years of the pandemic, preparedness for abrupt transitions from face-to-face to online has continued, and we still need to support students engaging in learning online. Th key to student engagement is not just their interest in the subject but also lecturer support, encouragement, and expertise in teaching online. These are all critical elements of active learning.

In this study, we examined the role of active learning of 219 online English-Mediated Instruction (EMI) learners from Liberal Arts, Sciences, and Languages majors to investigate factors that predict online learner engagement. Online learning can effectively encourage active learning without face-to-face classroom interaction. Our findings indicated teaching approach and lecturer preparedness are key factors for student engagement in the online environment. Unexpectedly, instructor’s encouraging of student participation was not found to be essential. Our study implied that during online learning students may not recall actively taking part in discussions, but they will perceive and remember lecturers’ organisation and warmth. Student engagement or active learning then, especially online, is associated with lecturer organisation and informative ongoing communication with students in the classroom.

Throughout the pandemic, lecturers and students will have not only adjusted to online learning but will have discovered richer and deeper online sources, not only of information and discussions of their class subjects, but also of support and interaction between lecturer and students, as well as between students. As in a face-to-face classroom, working and supporting relationships develop in online classrooms with the support and information from an organised and warm lecturer. Our study suggested that opening the online class early for salutations and small talk, and making a sincere effort to know and use students’ names, even in larger sized classes, are beneficial to students’ engagement and learning success.

Online learning is established and has opened up new ways of teaching and learning, as well as research needs. COVID-19 has strengthened the technology and pedagogy using that technology. As lecturers and students look forward to the waning of the pandemic and the return to the traditional classroom, the rich and in-depth resources of the internet still be mined and used constructively in the classroom. However, lecturers and students must be prepared, for the indefinite future, for sudden, well-organised, transition to a blended form of class.

Yvette Denise Murdoch, Department of English Education, College of Education, Hongik University (, ROK. She has a profound professional and personal interest in contributing to the betterment of the English-Mediated Instruction and English preservice education teaching–learning environments.
Cherry Lee (Facebook)           Yvette Murdoch (LinkedIn)               Cherry Lee (Instagram)


Lim, H., Murdoch, Y. D., & Cho, J. 2021. Online EMI learner engagement and perceptions of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, DOI:10.1080/14703297.2021.1905030

Should learning be fun?

Many years ago, when an ex colleague found out that as well as tests based on quiz shows I was also getting my students to play games in class in order to teach the ‘serious’ subject of marketing, I was berated with the phrase “I’m not there to entertain them”. After all, marketing is a serious matter, not frivolous. The impact of plastic pollution on the global environment is not a light-hearted jaunt and you rarely find, with the possible exception of Stephen Brown, journal articles that stray from anything other than a strict academic approach.

Yet, there is a general consensus amongst students that they don’t like ‘boring’ lectures, or seminars where they simply go through the motions of answering a case study. The pedagogic literature has moved towards various forms of active learning, encouraging greater participation and the development of higher order thinking skills. At the same time there has been a growth in the concept of gamification, from Lego® Serious Play® and escape rooms to computer simulations.

Yet there is still resistance, often of a pragmatic nature. How much easier is it to design a course around a core text. How much more efficient to use already existing materials. How much simpler and expectation-meeting to provide information and then ask students to apply it by answering questions. However, in 26 years of teaching I have seen students become less resilient, less able to take responsibility for their own learning and less able to apply creative thinking to problem solving with often quite mechanistic engagement (yes, I am generalising, but sadly the outliers are also diminishing).

Little of this is their fault, given how successive Governments have narrowed curricula, specified process and focused on outcomes to meet national standards. So isn’t it our responsibility to set these birds of learning free from the cages of rigid education so that they might soar to heights of understanding and swoop across the changing landscapes of curiosity (I fear this metaphor may be getting away from me).

You only have to look at the impact of social media and the nature of its content presentation to understand that knowledge and engagement are now governed by different features. This is the lived experience of the vast majority of the students we deal with and we have to be able to change. The idea of active learning, problem-based learning and gamification are spreading fast, but I think we should also consider the positive benefits of having fun: pleasure; anticipation, memorability. Thus, I find myself, as I write this, surrounded by cards, dice, playing pieces and enough money (sadly not real) to buy a small island. Desperately trying to make sure that my marketing boardgame (#1 Tycoon) is not too hard or easy and that, by the end of it, students will at least have been able to familiarise themselves with some basic marketing terms and concepts, in a way that is enjoyable.

Roger Saunders is a Teaching Fellow and Associate Professor at Leicester Castle Business School, De Montfort University. He’s been teaching for 26 years and specialises in Marketing and Advertising, though his research interest is in teaching and learning – particularly gamification and playful learning.
@RogerLecturer on Twitter

Embedding Inclusive Assessment: lessons from large-scale assessment change

In this blog post, we introduce and discuss a recently completed QAA-funded Collaborative Enhancement Project that aimed to explore and understand the relationship(s) between assessment outcomes and inclusive assessment designs for different groups of students during the pandemic-affected academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21. There have been few large-scale empirical studies of this kind conducted and shared with the sector despite changes in assessment practices attracting significant scrutiny and evaluation throughout the pandemic. The project brought together eight institutions from across the University Alliance mission group and comprised a three-phase approach: 1) an analysis of assessment outcomes for specific cohorts across each partner institution capturing the range of design/policy changes alongside those course/programmes displaying the largest percentage reduction in attainment/awarding gaps (for 2019-20) and improved student continuation rates (for 2020-21). 2) interviews with academic staff and focus groups with students from those courses identified by each partner with the latter facilitated by a cadre of student researchers employed by each institution to garner student feedback on the inclusivity of assessment arrangements. 3) staff interview and student focus group data were subjected to a process of thematic analysis to capture key themes and sub-themes at a course/programme level.

This collaborative project work culminated in the production of a series of outputs developed as practical resources with the aim of supporting HE leaders, academics, and students in higher education to review, plan for, and evaluate enhancement-led inclusive assessment policies, initiatives, and interventions. Each resource is framed by an overarching position statement we developed for the project that offers the lens through which we now invite universities and practitioners to critically consider their own assessment policies and practices. We believe inclusive assessment:

‘… is realised through holistic and flexible approaches that recognise value and reflect student diversity, facilitating choice and enabling every individual to demonstrate their achievement with respect to academic/professional standards and empowering them to take ownership of their learning journey. To achieve this, assessment needs to be strategically designed as an embedded element of the curriculum to proactively consider students’ needs and to remove systemic barriers in institutional policies, processes, and practices.’

A set of inclusive assessment attributes was collectively developed to reflect the insights generated through the research work undertaken. These attributes formed the basis for an associated toolkit and suite of case studies as a way of illustrating the types of approaches that were deployed, alongside their impact on student learning and performance. Together these resources provide a framework to assist universities and practitioners in reflecting upon their current institutional policies and practices.

The project has produced a series of practical, evidence-based insights into the impact of alternative assessment arrangements on student outcomes, highlighting areas of good practice and creative implementation. Project findings and outputs are illustrative of how clear, positive outcomes can develop from adversity and how agile thinking and responses to change enabled institutions to put creative solutions and inclusive practices in place within a short period time with the culminative effect of positively impacting student outcomes.

Sam Elkington is Professor of Learning and Teaching at Teeside University, a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of the HEA
Twitter: @sd_elkington

Finding Your Purpose in HE

Like many of us, I came to higher education because I believed that it was a profession that could allow me to foster community and be part of social change. But I have often struggled with the feeling that both my work and institutions fell short of the goal of making the world a better place through research and teaching.

Finding Your Purpose” is a workbook that I developed for justice-oriented scholars who are struggling to align their work with their values. Justice-oriented scholars can be instructors who try to counter mis-information or bigotry in their classrooms. They can be librarians who work to create networks of care. They can be students who lift one another up, or researchers whose writing challenges systems of violence and oppression. 

As Anne Helen Peterson has described really clearly, especially as we enter the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, I think a lot of us in and beyond HE feel disillusioned with work. The goal of “Finding Your Purpose” is to help us navigate that uncomfortable space so we can feel like our lives, our work, and our values are more closely aligned.

“Finding Your Purpose” is influenced by the writing of adrienne maree brownMariame Kaba, and others who talk about hope and change as a daily practice. For me, the idea of a justice-oriented scholar is aspirational. It is for everyone whose work turns towards justice.

How can we find our purpose?

The “Finding Your Purpose” workbook offers one approach to finding purpose at work by thinking about the people who inspire you, the communities you belong to, the values that guide you, and the work that gives you pleasure.

“Finding Your Purpose” is a workbook for individuals, but I’ve found it can be really powerful to do the work with others. This project has driven home to me just how much we need a sense of collective purpose as we face the many overlapping crises facing our profession and our communities, from climate change to racism and transphobia.

What if we find our motivations are at odds with the professional context we find ourselves in? 

I don’t know a lot of people who feel like their motivations are perfectly matched with their professional context. So we all navigate that in different ways: by adjusting how we do our work; by creating change in our workplace; or by seeking new professional opportunities elsewhere. “Working your wage,” as people like @saraisthreads call it, is one way to do this. So is organizing with a union. So is applying for new jobs or even exploring a new career. 

One of my favourite outcomes from this project is when people say it helped them set better boundaries at work, so that they were able to focus more closely on the aspects of their jobs and lives that are meaningful or satisfying or joyful. 

How can educational developers help those we work with find their purpose?

When I worked with the Visionary Futures Collective, a pandemic advocacy group, we followed a three-part model of social change: transparency, vulnerability, and collective action. 

Transparency means making the reality of our working lives more visible. Surfacing the fact that many of us struggle to find purpose at work, even in a values-driven profession like higher education, is really powerful. I wish I had understood that especially early in my career. 

Vulnerability is about creating a space where people feel safe working through difficult feelings and experiences. This requires building reciprocal and trusting relationships. The Collective Responsibility Labor Advocacy Toolkit has really useful resources for thinking about how we prepare to talk honestly with one another, especially under conditions of unequal power. I think this is an essential precondition for talking about what purpose-oriented work can look like. Finally, collective action is what happens when we get together and try to create change. We all have to figure out how to navigate these broken systems for ourselves. But I hope that in doing so, we can find a way to ease the harm these systems cause and create more space for justice-oriented scholarship to flourish.

Hannah Alpert-Abrams is a writer, speaker, and justice-oriented scholar who has published broadly on technology, labour, education, and the humanities. She is a founding member of the Visionary Futures Collective, the Academic Job Market Support Network, and the Postdoctoral Laborers. Her newest project, “Finding Your Purpose: a Higher Calling workbook for justice-oriented scholars in an unjust world,” is freely available online. Find her on Twitter @hralperta

From Knowledge Acquisition to Knowledge Management: A developmental Framework for staff and students

Disciplinary knowledge and understanding are at the heart of HE. The sense of belonging that a shared enthusiasm for the subject brings to a learning community underpins student success (Davis, 2019), builds graduate identity (Jensen, 2019) and, in our experience, can transcend difference amongst a diverse learning community.

The current pace of knowledge creation is almost overwhelming and will increase as the Fourth Industrial Age progresses (United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation (UNESCO), 2015; WEF, 2018). To ensure students might keep their disciplinary knowledge current beyond graduation (Coonan and Pratt-Adams, 2019) we must develop their critical, independent thinking alongside capabilities to ethically source, select, and safeguard information. These are skills the World Economic Forum (WEF) recognises as crucial to the future workforce (WEF, 2018), and UNESCO deems integral to education for the common good (UNESCO, 2015). They are also inclusive to students with diverse backgrounds and characteristics.

As such the University of Hull’s competence-based higher education stresses the importance of knowledge management, rather than acquisition (Lawrence, 2020), which we define as the ability to source, understand and communicate knowledge. It consists of theoretical and practical skills for effective academic practice and success in the workplace – a rudimentary Linked-in job search demonstrates knowledge management is creeping from essential skills into actual job titles. 

To support staff and students to manage this pace of change and transition to managing rather than acquiring knowledge we developed a Knowledge Management Framework (KMF) in consultation with students, recent graduates, Hull University Students’ Union, and colleagues involved in teaching and supporting learning. Recent graduates indicated they often lacked clear expectations or purpose in relation to knowledge management leaving them confused and feeling disadvantaged. Staff were keen for steer on supporting their students and their own academic practice.

In response, we presented the Knowledge Management Framework as an open access online resource within the Library’s suite of Skills Guides, it:

  • Guides academics in embedding knowledge management in curricula to ensure clarity and move away from assumptions about students’ previous experiences, opportunities or characteristics;
  • Is sufficiently flexible to support different disciplinary needs;
  • Explicitly explains what students might expect in their course of study.

The Elements of Knowledge Management page suggests how knowledge management can be written in curricula and includes links to further guidance. We suggest:

  • Identify and critically assess appropriate sources; 
  • Understand, question and clearly communicate knowledge to a diverse audience; 
  • Practice effective, ethical information management; 
  • Communicate with a diverse audience in person and through written, digital & media technologies professionally and confidently. 

The Knowledge Management Framework page offers ten considerations for designing courses, and ten for study or research. Presenting these side-by-side makes explicit their interrelationship, fosters understanding of the purpose of knowledge management and the Framework, and encourages reflection.

Data show that the Framework is being used daily, and user feedback suggests its utility for both staff and students in building their capability in Knowledge Management is transformational. Computer Science has embedded the Framework into level 4. Dr Neil Gordon, Senior Lecture said “As we have moved to a competency-based assessment, a key aspect of our degree and the module is to develop the students’ ability “to conduct guided investigation across” various topics. The Framework helps to provide a way to consider that, with the focus on how to identify and use different information sources. This is critical for students as they embark on their study from level 4 (typically year 1) with us.”

We hope the Framework is useful to others across the sector working with their learning communities in making the move from building capabilities in knowledge acquisition to management.

Maggie Sarjantson, FHEA, is Collections Development Manager at the University of Hull Library. Her interests include how libraries can provide equitable access to resources, and how they are used in learning and teaching.  Maggie led the development of the Knowledge Management Framework and the relevant supporting materials.

Dr Jenny Lawrence, AFSEDA, PFHEA, NTF is Director of the Oxford Brookes Centre for Academic Enhancement and Development, she worked with Maggie in developing the Framework, lending expertise in competence-based HE, inclusive pedagogic practice and academic development. @jennywahwah


Coonan, E. and Pratt-Adams, S. (2019) Building Higher Education Curricula Fit for The Future: How Higher Education institutions are responding to the Industrial Strategy Links to an external site. York: Advance HE.

Davis, S. N., & Wagner, S. E. (2019). Research Motivations and Undergraduate Researchers’ Disciplinary Identity. SAGE Open.

Jensen, T.L. (2019) ‘Back to Billdung’: A Holistic Competence-Based Approach to student Engagement in Innovation Learning Process in HE. In Lund, B. and Arndt, S. (Eds) (2019) The Creative University: Contemporary Responses to the Changing Role of the University. Leiden: Brill Sense

Lawrence, J. (2020b) Assessing competencies could equip graduates for an uncertain post-Covid future. WonkHE blog

World Economic Forum (2018) The Future of Jobs report 2018

A triple filter test for educational development activities

The classic triple filter test attributed to Socrates asks us to speak about a person only if what we’re going to say is true, kind and necessary. It’s a great way to limit salacious comment and gossip. In this blog I consider what might be the triple filter test that educational developers apply before embarking on projects and taking forward requests?

Why might educational developers need a triple filter test?

Well, first, there’s an awful lot we could get involved with. Over the last ten years educational development work has taken on more strategic prominence and become more aligned to cross-institutional projects that are focused directly on student success. This is in addition to our more established foci of supporting individual teaching staff and teams with their own professional development, and the enhancement of courses and programmes. This expansion of the sphere of influence and action of educational developers has been particularly pronounced in England where ‘new’ work is aligned to OfS priorities like access and participation and student outcomes. Second, educational development teams are periodically subject to the critical gaze of senior managers. When senior managers with the portfolio responsibility for education and/ or student experience change, the new incumbent often look closely at the educational development centre and seeks to find ways to ensure it can best deliver on their ambitions. Cleaver and Cracknell, 2022, Jones and Wisker, 2012 and Gosling 2008, all attest to the precarious nature of educational development centres. Third, educational development centres are usually quite small units with staffing costs that are relatively high per fte compared to other university services. This in part reflects the need for peer esteem from the academic community (consider the number of institutions that provide educational developers with academic contracts.) It reflects the complex expertise of educational developers including foundational characteristics, diverse skills, abilities, competencies and knowledge (see, for example, McDonald et al 2016), that overlaps extensively with academic work. These small, expert teams need to make sure they invest their time in the right ways.

What would the educational developer’s triple filter test be?

I propose that the first question would be, ‘will this activity demonstrably improve teaching and/or student learning?’ It’s a broad first test of the proposed action. The inclusion of the word demonstrable suggests we need to have some reasonable evidence that the action will work (research elsewhere, an action that will be research-informed) or that we will monitor our action (we will adopt a scholarly or research-based approach to the activity.) The test separates teaching and student learning. Is that really necessary? I think so for this first test which intends to filter out the odd-ball requests and possibilities. The form of words also allows us to consider developing teaching as an activity in its own right, not always linked, by evidence, to improving student learning.

For the second question I propose, ‘does the activity align to the mission and purposes of the educational development centre?’ Obvious perhaps but it speaks to how crucial it is to have a centre mission to describe the ultimate goal of all our educational development actions. The mission can also articulate the ways that goal will be achieved and the values of the centre. Centre missions can and do change but they should be able to withstand changes to senior leaders’ priorities and the development of university strategies to which the educational development centre contributes.

Finally, for the third question I propose, ‘will the educational development centre monitor the effectiveness and impact of the activity and report on that to stakeholders?’ This is the final test to establish if the work has value and strategic importance within the institution and it establishes the accountability of the educational development centre for the work. It verifies that the work will be seen and visible within the institution when it is reported forward to someone – a client, sponsor or other audience for the work. By its explicit description of what is to be monitored (effectiveness and impact – in relation to teaching and/or student learning) the question states the ways the importance of the activity will be evaluated.

So, in summary, the proposed triple filter test for educational developers to use to determine whether they should invest their time and expertise into an institutional activity is:

  • Will this activity demonstrably improve teaching and/ or student learning?
  • Does the activity align to the mission and purposes of the educational development centre?
  • Will the educational development centre monitor the effectiveness and impact of the activity and report on that to stakeholders?

It would be great to hear what you use already to determine work priorities and what you think of this proposal. It Intends to allow educational developers to make a priori decisions about the activities they spend time on and to ensure the greatest positive impact of educational development work. Do please share your thoughts by replying to this blog or contacting me directly.

Jackie Potter is Dean of Academic Innovation at the University of Chester and Professor of Higher Education Learning and Development. She is the current Chair of the Heads of Educational Development and a member of the Staff and Educational Development Association. @Jac_Potter @uochester @HEDG_UK @SEDA_UK_
She can be contacted at


Cleaver, L. & Cracknell, L. (2022). Highs and lows, ebbs and flows: buckle up for the educational development rollercoaster ride. SEDA Blog. 05.05. 2022

Gosling, P. (2008). Educational Development in the UK. Report for the Heads of Educational Development Group. HEDG.

Jones, J. & Wisker, G. (2012). Educational Developments in the UK. Report for the Heads of Educational Development Group. HEDG.

McDonald, J., Kenny, N., Kustra, E., Dawson, D., Iqbal, I., Borin, P., & Chan, J. (2016). Educational Development Guide Series: No. 1. The Educational Developer’s Portfolio. Ottawa, Canada: Educational Developers Caucus.

Can we use multiple-choice questions for assessment in any subject?

Can multiple-choice questions be used effectively for assessment in any academic subject? Having worked mainly in arts and humanities, I admit I’d never seriously considered this. But what with one thing and another over the last couple of years (!) I found myself grappling with this exact question about … errr… questions.

Recent moves by universities towards more blended and online learning contexts have necessitated more consideration of online assessment and the trickle down consequences this might entail. For the managerially oriented, this offers the intoxicating waft of increased efficiency and even automated marking in the virtual air. You can almost sense the technology vendors circling, pitching Martin Weller’s Silicon Valley Narrative on how education is broken, and only private sector solutions can fix it. Check out Weller’s ed tech pitch generator to get inside knowledge on the next big ed tech tornado coming our way!

So it was with some chastened surprise that I learned about the nuance, challenge, and even validity (insert shocked emoji if required) that MCQs can offer, according to a range of very credible advocates. I started with Phil Race’s Lecturers Toolkit, which lists a host of advantages, many perhaps unsurprising:

  • Reliability
  • Time efficiency
  • Availability of multiple-choice and multiple response options

Other strengths of MCQs were, to me, less obvious. As mentioned above, Race contends that good question items can be meaningful and valid – they test what you want them to – whilst also covering a greater extent of the syllabus (Race, 2015, p. 61). Having close correspondence to much real world decision-making was a further benefit listed. If well-constructed MCQs can be combined with other forms of assessment, it seems even greater validity, syllabus coverage and efficiency might be possible.

At this point, a request for advice on the SEDA mailing list produced the usual very generous and well-informed response. Colleagues in the fields of science, medicine, agriculture and educational development (among others*) have been producing great work in this area for some time. Of course, the community produced the same answer to my question as to virtually any in HE: ‘it depends … [how deep you want to go?]’.

Dr David Smith at Sheffield Hallam devises unGoogleable exam questions and gives tips and resources for teasing out those higher order thinking skills including “the ability to apply, analyse and evaluate information”. Rebecca McCarter and Dr Janette Myers note that single best answer questions (select the ‘most correct’ option) can test application of concepts over simple recall, whilst Peter Grossman uses degree of difficulty estimation (“think scoring of Olympic diving”). His idea of setting in-class tasks for students to construct their own questions is also valuable for a range of educational reasons. Colleagues Linda Sullivan (MTU Cork) and Ruth Brown (SEDA consultant) added further nuance by highlighting how we can ask students to rank or confidence-weight their responses. They also link to psychological research by Butler (2018) outlining 5 best practices in MCQ construction. It might, however, be challenging to balance Butler’s overall recommendation for simple item formats with the more nuanced demands of confidence weightings, rankings and explanations of answers discussed above.  

This tension between simplicity and effectiveness gets to the heart of the issue on writing MCQs, and to the conclusion of my brief research into this area. Doing this well will take substantial time, expertise and input from a range of stakeholders. The usual suspects will be required: lecturers, educational developer, learning technologist, student voice, quality and standards and more I’m sure. Good items take time to produce; banks of items much longer. Quality control and piloting is essential – I was amazed how many ways there are to get this stuff obviously wrong, in ways which aren’t obvious during question construction. Colleagues from Harper Adams highlighted the analysis techniques needed to assess both the difficulty of items and the extent to which each one discriminates student level, correlating student scores for each question to the overall assessment mark. Fascinating, but tricky and time-consuming. So, MCQs – better than I thought as a tool, even more challenging to make than I realised. Reassuringly, Butler (2018, p.323) notes that aside from simply measuring things, MCQs can “cause learning”. Phew. I’ll try that line next time someone asks what I do: “I cause learning”. I wonder if the OfS will accept that as evidence when they next come knocking?

Steve White has been lurking in teaching, learning and research-related third spaces in HE for about 20 years. Most relevant for this article, he’s dabbled in online materials and test item writing for Oxford University Press. He worked in intriguingly ill-defined roles while developing online MA courses and MOOCs for the University of Southampton, leading him to complete PhD research on the third space in HE. More recent roles have straddled Learning Development and Educational Development at Arts University Bournemouth and Southampton.

*Many thanks to contributors to the discussion on MCQs: Ruth Brown, Dr David Smith, Peter Grossman, Dr Janette Myers, Clare Davies, and colleagues at Harper Adams. My apologies if I’ve missed anyone out – I’ve recently changed employer so lost access to some emails.


Here’s a list of resources and references I received from the SEDA community, including a number of items suggested by Clara Davies:

Burton, R. F. 2005. Multiple-choice and true/false tests: myths and misapprehensions. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. 30 (1), 65 – 72

Butler, A. C. (2018). Multiple-Choice Testing in Education: Are the Best Practices for Assessment Also Good for Learning? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 7(3), 323–331.

Case, S.M. & Swanson, D.B, 2002. Constructing Written Test Questions For the Basic and Clinical Sciences

Gronlund, N.E. 1991. How to Construct Achievement Tests. Allyn Bacon, 4th Edition.

Race, P. (2020). The Lecturer’s Toolkit (5th ed.). Routledge. (Ch.2) Race, P. (n.d.) Designing Multiple-Choice Questions. Phil Race: Assessment, learning and teaching in higher education.