Monday 4 January 2021

Work from Home "Best Practices"

Just noticed I hit most of the Work From Home 'best practices', such as:

  • Have a comfortable workspace (desk, kit, environment);
  • Separate from day to day activities;
  • Rituals (e.g., Start at 9; breaks / coffee at 11 / 3; fruit in the morning etc.);
  • Plants and pets.

Anyone got any 'Not to be without' tips for WfH?

Sunday 14 June 2020

Adaptive Action Learning

Group of university student working outside a classroom
Typical Action Learning set
I am working on another Action Learning (AL) paper, reflecting on the success of the large cohort I led to great success in 2013 (Callaghan, 2013); on the type of AL I used; which type of AL; how did it change through the course; what are the implications for AL practitioners, and others (teachers, learners, institutions)? And is AL a pedagogy, a method, or a toolkit? And what is ‘Adaptive Action Learning’?

Here are my thoughts so far:

Adaptive Action Learning

In 2012 I led a group of 60 undergraduate education students through their dissertation process. Social Constructivism was my guiding pedagogy – informed by Salmon’s 5 stage model (2004) that encourage me to offer initial support, but then, quickly, step back and allow the students to support each other. The result was stunning – over 57% of the students achieve a First in their dissertation (Callaghan, 2013). Today, being more informed about teaching and learning, I look back on my approach and see that it quickly morphed away from Social Constructivism to be more accurately categorised as traditional ‘Action Learning’ – and because this ‘evolved’ from a constructivist cauldron, perhaps ‘Adaptive Action Learning’.

From design to reality

I designed the course, the discussion boards, and webinars to facilitate discussion amongst the student about their diverse topics – all informed by a Social Constructive pedagogy. There was a central theme – the ‘dissertation’ process that they were all going through – this was perhaps the ‘wicked’ problem (an AL reference) – trying to do their research, devise their methodologies, and write it up to be able to submit a dissertation at the end of the process. I was also keen to generate a community spirit, to get them to help each other with their ‘wicked’ problems, and I was following Salmon’s model (2004) of the tutor becoming highly engaged in the first few weeks, and tapering that involvement quickly as the course progresses.

My approach cannot be classified as ‘problem’ or ‘case’ based learning (Callaghan, 2018), as the topics were selected by the students. The key attributes of a traditional AL approach (Marquardt, 2004) were present – and those of other pedagogies, such as a single source of ‘truth’, a ‘right’ answer, and clearly defined learning content were not.

Move from Sage to Ghost

It is interesting to look at how my role changed – being fully engaged with the students during the first few weeks, encouraging interaction with the discussion boards, the webinars, and each other (following Salmon’s 5 step model (Salmon, 2004) of early tutor support). Therefore, my approach may be better categorised as Marquardt’s AL model (2004), where I was the ‘Action Learning Coach’. As I followed Salmons model further, my input needed to be reduced, aiming to move from a ‘Sage of the Stage’ (King, 1993) to a ‘Ghost in the Wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007) – moving away from Marquart’s model, towards Brook, Pedler & Burgoyne’s ‘Key Principles’ (2012:271) where there is no facilitator. Note - Revans expressed concerns about the facilitator being an obstruction to learning, demanding that the facilitator of the group "...must contrive that it achieves independence of them at the earliest possible moment" (Revans, 2011:20).

During the final few weeks my input was minimal with students feeding back to each other on their work, following my lead from feedback I had given in earlier weeks. One of my final posts, on the Discussion and Conclusion board was along the lines of:

At this stage in your dissertation, you have led us on wonderful journey, we have read your literature, have a thorough grasp of your methodologies, and know clearly what you have found and understood your analysis of the data. What I would like to see in at the end of your Discussion and Conclusion are the implications for you, your organisations, and wider society. You have done a beautiful job of taking us on this journey, up the mountain – now it is time to tell us what you see on the other side.

This post, like a handful of others in the final weeks, was designed to elicit novel and insightful perspectives on the problems they have been studying – pushing student reflection and personal development – key indicators of AL.


It seems quite clear that an AL approach had been taken with this cohort – not from the outset, and not intentionally, but then again, AL was originally ‘stumbled across’, so I feel in good company 😊.

One of the tensions I see now is the role of ‘coach’: Revans identified dangers of being prescriptive – steering participants in directions that would hinder learning and produce poorer outcomes, both for the participants and their organisations. At the time I was very mindful of this as I fed back to students – yet I did not have AL in mind.

Now I see the role of facilitator as key in an AL context – too much and it becomes Problem or Case Based Learning, too little and learning opportunities can be wasted – so skilled facilitation seems key to a successful AL approach.

Also, I see AL as a pedagogy, a method, and a toolkit. It gives us a perspective on teaching and learning that helps teachers design curriculums that are engaging and effective.

Further, Revan’s work seems to have come full circle in some areas, with authors such as Marquardt (2004) emphasising the presence of a coach, whilst the more recent key principles by Brook, Pedler & Burgoyne (2012:271) don’t include this role.

Implications for students, teachers, and other stakeholders

Well, that will be in the final paper, I hope! And when done, I will link from here 😊


Brook, C., Pedler, M. and Burgoyne, J., 2012. Some debates and challenges in the literature on action learning: the state of the art since Revans. Human Resource Development International15(3), pp.269-282.

Callaghan (2013) A Tidal Wave of Discussion … How active discussion produced outstanding* results, The Best of TEL, 1 November, Available at: (Accessed: 14 June 2020)

Callaghan (2018) What is Case Based Learning (CBL), Problem Based Learning (PBL), & Scenario Based Learning (SBL)?

Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213

King, A., Learning, P. A. and Questioning, G. R. P. (1993) From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41 (1) 30-35.

Revans, R. (1983) ABC of Action Learning (Bromley, Chartwell-Bratt). London: Chartwell Bratt.

Revans, R.W. 2011. ABC of action learning. Farnham: Gower.

Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.

Marquardt, M. 2004. Optimising the Power of Action Learning: Solving Problems and Building Leaders in Real Time. London: Davies-Black.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

What is Case Based Learning (CBL), Problem Based Learning (PBL), & Scenario Based Learning (SBL)?

What are they, why use them and suggestions on how to implement.

Yesterday was a fairly quiet at the School, so I got a chance to research and write up something on case vs problem vs scenario based learning.  These are my current notes and are likely to feed into a TEL briefing, staff development session, conference or journal article.


The School is interested in developing a pedagogy that will fare well with increased student numbers and the expansion into online provision.  There is an implicit assumption that an ‘active learning’ and/or ‘student centred’ pedagogy may be most appropriate.  These approaches often use problem, scenario, or case base learning (PBL, SBL, CBL), and thus this post summarises what we know, why they may be effective, and suggests ‘good practice’ for implementation.


Case Based Learning (CBL), Problem (PBL), & Scenario (SBL) are pedagogies that outline a case, problem, or scenario, and then ask the learners to consider the scenario in the context of learning outcomes to reinforce existing knowledge and perhaps find new information that is relevant. Typically, the approach uses small groups supervised by an expert (in content & teaching) who nudges learners towards the learning outcomes. Barrows (1986) outlines a PBL spectrum with two main variables – the amount of briefing (minimal to comprehensive), and expert input (minimal to ‘directed’), and concludes: ‘The term problem-based learning must be considered a genus for which there are many species and subspecies’ (ibid, 1986:485).  Currently, PBL approaches suggest minimal briefing and guidance, allowing learners to “explore tangents” (Srinivasan, 2007:74) whilst a CBL approach suggests increased guidance, avoiding “tangents” with guided questioning (ibid).

Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, (2006:75, my bolds) identify some PBL approaches:
 “…discovery learning (Anthony, 1973; Bruner, 1961); problem-based learning (PBL; Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980; Schmidt, 1983), inquiry learning (Papert, 1980; Rutherford, 1964), experiential learning (Boud, Keogh,  &  Walker,  1985;  Kolb  &  Fry,  1975),  and constructivist learning (Jonassen, 1991; Steffe & Gale, 1995).”

Scenario based learning is less well defined – a scan of contemporary literature reveals a paucity of description of the technique (Domingos & Lee, 2015; Ozogul, 2018; Khatiban et al, 2018).

Currently, I suggest that many implementations of PBL are more like CBL, and that at the School we tend to mean CBL when we mention these approaches.


The School favours CBL because it produces a deeper learning experience where a real understanding of the issues and techniques are developed and is preferred by students and staff (Hassoulas et al., 2017; Wilkes & Srinivasan, 2017; Srinivasan, 2007).  The approach and its inherent critique of didactic approaches is perhaps best encapsulated in the phrase:

“Tell Me and I Will Forget; Show Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Will Understand”

… often cited as Confucius (450BC).

However, there are tensions when introducing PBL to medical education as it takes significantly longer to cover the same curriculum items vs the traditional didactic method (Wilkes & Srinivasan, 2017).  It is also resource intensive in terms of space and experts’ time (Hassoulas, et al., 2017).  Kirschner, Sweller & Clark (2006) are also critical of a PBL approach, citing Albanese and Mitchell’s (1993) study of PBL vs conventional methods that concludes that “…although PBL students receive better scores for their clinical performance…” (ibid:82), they also find:
  • Lower exam scores;
  • No differences in residency selections;
  • More study hours each day;
  • Inefficient use of tests (significantly more tests & less benefit);


For the School, I suggest:
  • A social constructivist approach via group work (6-10 members);
  • Scenarios should be written, perhaps augmented by audio / video segments;
  • Scenarios may develop as a session progresses (e.g., emergency real time role-play);
  • An expert supervises the session – perhaps one expert for 6-8 groups;
  • Experts listen in and guide learners towards learning outcomes, with guided questioning or more direct intervention to reduce ‘off piste’ exploration.

Face to face:
Problems may arise supervising groups as they may not easily corral themselves to areas convenient for supervision.  Space for these sessions will be significantly more than that required by a traditional ‘lecture’ – ideally a large space with a handful of tables set far enough apart to allow group discussion and close enough to allow expert monitoring and facilitation.

This may be an easier implementation due to moving from virtual room to room via a click (for synchronous sessions) or being able to monitor all interactions on an asynchronous discussion board.  However, more supervision and guidance will demand more attention from experts.


Barrows, H. S. (1986). A taxonomy of problem-based learning methods. Medical Education, 20, 481–486.

Domingos, E., & Lee, J. (2015). The evolution of scenario-based learning. In Games+ Learning+ Society Conference. Madison, Wisconsin. Retrieved from 

Hassoulas, A., Forty, E., Hoskins, M., Walters, J., & Riley, S. (2017). A case-based medical curriculum for the 21st century: The use of innovative approaches in designing and developing a case on mental health. Medical Teacher. 

Khatiban, M., Amini, R., & Farahanchi, A. (n.d.). Lecture-based versus problem- based learning in ethics education among nursing students. 

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work. Educational Psychologist, 41(March 2015), 87–98. 

Ozogul, G. (2018). Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners Through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 12(1). 

Srinivasan, M., Wilkes, M., Stevenson, F., Nguyen, T., & Slavin, S. (2007). Comparing problem-based learning with case-based learning: Effects of a major curricular shift at two institutions. Academic Medicine. 

Wilkes, M. S., & Srinivasan, M. (2017). Problem Based Learning. In J. A. Dent, R. M. Harden, & D. Hunt (Eds.), A practical guide for medical teachers (Fifth, pp. 134–142). Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone. Retrieved from

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Using web conferencing for presentations

 … and how to avoid students saying 'Less Skype lectures please!'

Often, LSTM staff and visiting lectures are many thousands of miles away. Hence we sometimes use web conferencing to bring those presenters on site - into our teaching rooms.  However, sometimes the most excellent presenter and content will be undermined by poor internet connectivity – resulting in one of our student reps saying: “Less Skype lectures please!”

I found this phrase troubling – I was concerned that an excellent opportunity to hear from those at the top of their field, to pass their knowledge and experience on to our students, was being lost. Unpacking a little, I discovered the issue was poor internet connections being used to web conference a lecture - hence the student comment.

So, I came up with some advice for staff using conferencing technology themselves or using it to bring others into their lectures. A prerequisite is that staff realise that web conferencing systems will struggle over poor internet connections - relevant to LSTM as many of the geographic areas we work in have poor connectivity.  Once understood:

  1. For content - ask the presenter to forward (well in advance) learning materials so that the students can do much of the ‘learning’ before the session - perhaps a reading list, annotated notes, or a video of the presenter delivering the ‘content’;
  2. Ask the students to prepare two or three questions each, and have these emailed to the presenter so that they can address those questions - though avoid a didactic experience by the back door!?
  3. During the webinar (Skype or whatever), encourage interaction - use the tools - generate a dialogue - use the prepared questions as a starting point.
  4. Prioritise voice over video - still images may be fine, but video might be too challenging;

Plan B

So, what if the web conference software fails? Try some alternatives such as:

… though perhaps you should test one of these before you need to use it!

The current Zoom and terms allow free 1-2-1 use - suitable for the above scenario.

And if it really falls apart I’d advise using a discussion board to explore the questions - the board will wait until the network catches up.

Plan A - LSTM’s virtual classroom:

A better alternative to Skype etc might be our dedicated virtual classroom - YouSeeU - but that’s a whole other post. In the meantime, here’s a video that’ll show what YouSeeU looks like:

Whatever option you use, or if you want to discuss the alternatives, would be pleased to help - so email, call x3747, or just pop in!

Kindest regards to all,

Picture credits: ulrichw on and @D2L.

Monday 5 December 2016

Peer review: How to enhance learning without increasing your workload.

Peer review and feedback is generally perceived as an effective pedagogy (Zingaro & Porter, 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012; Nicol, 2010; Crouch, et al, 2007; Mitra, 2003).  As stated by Nicol (2013:103):

Peer review is an important alternative to teacher feedback, as research indicates that both the production and the receipt of feedback reviews can enhance students learning without necessarily increasing teacher workload.

In written activities peer review facilitates ‘... improvement in writing style, an awareness of how to apply assessment criteria and an ability to self-assess future work ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012:679).  Nicol (2010) goes further, and states that:

… the act of giving feedback is cognitively more demanding; it engages students more actively in the process; they spend time thinking about the criteria and how the assignment is related to the criteria ...
Nicol (2010, in University of Strathclyde, 2010:3:06)

A recent online course at Edge Hill University (Callaghan, 2013), following Salmon’s five stage model (2004) evidenced the effectiveness of peer review.  Here are some points from students’ perspectives:
  • More timely, and a greater quantity of feedback available (no ‘one academic’ bottleneck);
  • Several varied perspectives encourages deeper self-reflection;
  • Peer language is better received / understood (Topping, 1998);
… and that the quality of the peer feedback became more useful as the course progressed - and peers’ became more confident and competent in their review and feedback skills.

More recently, Nicol et al. suggest that peer review closes “ … the gap between receipt of feedback and its application” (2015:104), allowing opportunities to use the feedback in their current work, something that is “ … quite rare after teacher feedback” (ibid).

Issues / barriers

Some issues / barriers include:

  • Students’ having a lack of confidence in their own work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Students’ lack confidence in commenting on peers’ work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013)
  • Students not happy with others commenting on their work (Callaghan, 2015; Wilson et al., 2014)
  • Quality of comments poor, in some part due to reluctance to offer areas for improvement (Callaghan, 2015)
  • ‘ … lack of confidence in assessors and/or assessments ...’ (Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Mostert & Snowball report 47% of students found ‘ … the peer assessment exercise was not useful.’. [note though, this was assessment, not review / feedback]
  • Students concerned about others using their work (Callaghan, 2015 & 2013; Mostert & Snowball, 2012)
  • Evidence that instructor intervention is required to reap significant learning gains (Zingaro & Porter, 2014);

… and in an online ‘leveraged’ environment, where the the tutor's voice is amplified to 100s or 1000s of students, tutors will feel pressured to produce well polished interactions (Bair and Bair, 2011).

Here's a PowerPoint addressing some of the barriers: Peer Review as a Pedagogy, given as part of my SOLSTICE Fellowship at Edge Hill University.

Now what (Driscoll, 2007)

Intended outcomes of following this approach include:

1) Getting students more engaged with learning content - effectively: i.e., minimising interaction required from tutors.  However, those looking to reduce their workloads should be warned that such motivation is not a successful driver (Wilson et al., 2014).

2) Encouraging the use of technology to facilitate peer review - with echoes of 'Community of Inquiry' (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) creating a deeper and more engaging learning experience.  Ideas such as Zhao et al.’s (2014) three strands of participation, interaction and social presence may further inform your approach.

3) Also consider the role of the tutor - encouraging tutors to move away from being the source of knowledge or ‘Sage on the Stage’ (King, 1993) to be more of a learning facilitator, like a ‘Guide on the Side’ (Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shacher, 1990) or ‘Ghost in the Wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007).

I hope that having read this far you might have a little more confidence and knowledge about the peer review process and have ideas about how to embed effective online discussion into their curricula.  I'm always happy to continue the discussion too - perhaps via @dbcallaghan - perhaps this may lead onto a webinar?


Callaghan, D. (2015) Experiences teaching an online 3rd year dissertation module at Edge Hill University, Nov 2014 - Feb 2015.

Callaghan, D. (2013) A Tidal Wave of Discussion … How active discussion produced outstanding results [online].  Available from: [13th May 2015].

Crouch, H., Watkins, J. Fagen, A.P., Mazur, E. (2007) Peer Instruction: Engaging students one-on-one, all at once in Reviews in Physics Education Research, Ed. E.F. Redish and P. Cooney, pp. 1-1 (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007). Available from:

Driscoll, J., 2007. Practising clinical supervision: a reflective approach for healthcare professionals. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hertz-Lazarowitz, R. and Shachar, H. (1990) Teachers' verbal behavior in cooperative and whole-class instruction. In: S. Sharan (eds) Cooperative Learning. Praeger. 77-94.

King, A., Learning, P. A. and Questioning, G. R. P. (1993) From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41 (1) 30-35.

Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213.

Mitra, S. (2003). “Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the "Hole-in-the-wall" experiments”. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 367-371.

Mostert, M.; Snowball , J. (2012) Where angels fear to tread: online peer-assessment in a large first-year class Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 38, Iss. 6, 2013

Nicol, D. (2010) The foundation for graduate attributes: Developing self-regulation through self and peer assessment. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.Scotland,

Nicol, D., Thomson, A, and Breslin, C. (2013) Rethinking feedback practices in
higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment and evaluation in higher education. 39(1),  102-122.

Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.

Topping, K. 1998. Peer Assessment between Students in Colleges and Universities.  Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249–276.

University of Strathclyde (2010) REAP Video [accessed 20-05-2015]

Zingaro, D., & Porter, L. (2014) Peer instruction in computing: The value of instructor intervention. Computers & Education, 71 , 87–96.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Blogs, discussion boards and journals.

A frequent question is how to use blogs and discussion boards.  Here's some recent advice:

Thanks for this opportunity to think things through – I feel a blog post coming on!?
I like discussion for collaboration – it’s a fab tool for those developing their confidence with their peers, reinforcing concepts; exploring issues; learning by explaining to others etc.
Blogs may be useful for more confident /capable students as there is an intended audience to write for and the possibility of critique / criticism.
Journals should also be considered – these are usually private to the student and tutor, so are great for less confident learners to build up their writing skills.
So, in summary, and making swathing* generalisations, journals for Y1, blogs (perhaps just Blackboard / internal ones) and discussion for Y2, and for Y3 look at public blogs and engagement with public discussion forums (TES etc).
Very kindest regards,
*Did you know a swathe is the amount of hay you can cut by hand in one pass? (late night R4!?)

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Creating talking head and similar videos

A popular topic on the Edge Hill PGCert course has been making ‘talking head’ and other videos / screen casts for teaching and learning.

I encourage colleagues to create ‘rough and ready’ / disposable video for teaching and learning. However, if colleagues want to move to the next step, here’s an excellent piece outlining an approach to create great looking video: (via @edutopia)

Link to mic mentioned: Movo PM20 Dual-Headed Lavalier Lapel Clip-on:

Other resources for video creation: