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Session 2D

Paper 1

What do we mean by social learning? A visual look at how social interaction impacts on the construction of learning in terms of design of physical spaces on campus.

James Rutherford - Senior Educational technologist | LEaD

Social learning environments are important in many ways, but especially because they can foster a greater sense of belonging to an institution and can lead to student’s ownership of the campus. New constructivist pedagogies lend themselves to and may require greater student collaboration. Therefore, more active and group-based learning means that student’s learning tasks do not end in the classroom, so there is a growing demand on students to continue to work and learn collaboratively elsewhere, ideally together, at university.

The focus is on ‘informal study’ or ‘social learning’, it is important to define what this means as it can be more complex than most people seem to understand.  This will be a key aspect of my paper and I will try to anticipate some of the ways that the audience understand what we call ‘informal learning’, and then provide a more rounded interpretation which will allow me to move onto the consequences for student informal learning spaces.

Context: The development of social learning environments has been important in a number of ways, but in particular it is argued that it fosters a sense of student ownership of the campus and creates a greater impression of belonging to an institution. (Boddington and Boys, 2011) Together with the reduction in contact hours for students over recent decades, this has had a significant impact on the time students can spend on campus. With the introduction of new pedagogical approaches that lend themselves to and may require greater student collaboration, group-based learning means that student’s learning tasks do not end in the classroom, so there is a growing demand on students to continue to work and learn collaboratively elsewhere. (Darling-Hammond et al., 2011; Honebein, 1996; Jonassen and Land, 2012)

Students will move to other areas such as a café, or the library or IT open access areas if they could arrange themselves in a group. (Turpin et al., 2016)

The introduction of more social spaces is vital in providing more informal places for students to work as well as relax, reflect or simply to have somewhere to sit with a coffee. I will illustrate and discuss the ‘home’ metaphor as a reference point for the psychological impact of a space and furniture to engage and provide a ‘home’ on campus.

Corridors for example are in-between spaces that are often ideal for creating informal spaces for learning or social activities. Often corridors are where people meet, a serendipitous encounter can be very positive, where staff or students can agree to meet again, if the corridor was well designed and furnished, then why not have that meeting there and then? (Temple, 2007)I will finish with another metaphor, the CAFEBAR which is a metaphor for principles of informal learning space design.

My final questions follow on from all this, and are intended to be challenging and thought-provoking. How do students benefit by attending the campus?  How does campus attendance reward the student?  And importantly why should students come to campus and why should they remain once classes are over?

The paper is designed to encourage attendees to ask themselves questions about social learning that may not have been considered previously.


“Intellectual development is significantly influenced through social interactions, thus learning should reflect collaboration” (Honebein, 1996)

This provision of a ‘socially-catalytic third place’, is an engaging idea mooted by Strange and Banning, somewhere that students neither lived nor worked, but a place to be and explore new and existing relationships. (Temple, 2007)

Informal learning spaces on campus can provide a link between a sense of belonging to that university, through a successful engagement within social groupings and collaborative working methodologies, with a resultant potential for improved learning outcomes. (Boddington and Boys, 2011)

Lev Vygotsky, the Russian teacher and psychologist theorised that social interaction is a means of constructing learning. He drew attention to the ways in which the physical environment can influence this learning process and suggested the idea that learning takes place in the contact that young adults have with each other. ‘These social interactions develop language—which supports thinking—and they provide feedback and assistance that support ongoing learning.’ (Darling-Hammond et al., 2011; Jonassen and Land, 2012)

Boddington, A., Boys, J., 2011. Re-Shaping Learning: A Critical Reader. The Future of Learning Spaces in Post-Compulsory Education, 1st ed. Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Honebein, P.C., 1996. Seven goals for the design of constructivist learning environments. Constr. Learn. Environ. Case Stud. Instr. Des. 11–24.

Temple, P., 2007. Learning spaces for the 21st century A review of the literature. The Higher Education Academy, London.

Turpin, B., Harrop, D., Oyston, E., Teasdale, M., Jenkin, D., Mcnamara, J., 2016. What makes an informal learning space?: a case study from Sheffield Hallam University, in: Priestner, A., Borg, M. (Eds.), User Experience in Libraries: Applying Ethnography and Human-Centred Design. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 155–172.

Paper 2

Promoting success in group work on an academic practice MA

Ruth Windscheffel  -  Senior Lecturer Educational Development | LEaD

Dominic Pates - Senior Educational Technologist | LEaD

This session will discuss introduction of a group poster assessment to a MA Academic Practice module on student support. This innovation actively confronted the long-recognised challenges to running successful group work for both staff and students, and raised new questions around inclusive practice, information literacy and communities of practice.

We will focus on a first-year module of an MA Academic Practice which adopted a new group-work assessment in 2017-18: the only one on the programme. The module focuses on student support and personal tutoring and is part of the University’s HEA-accredited PG Cert. programme. It has run twice to date.

The assessment’s rationale was two-fold: firstly, it was to vary MA participants’ experience of assessment across the programme. Previous participants had written a 3000-word essay which encouraged them to reflect and suggest enhancements to their practice, but did not result in a useable output. Secondly, group work and group assessment are known for being difficult to facilitate for staff and for students to engage with successfully (Martin Davies, 2009; Soetanto and MacDonald, 2017), problems which intensify when elements of distance or online learning are involved (Smith, et al, 2010). Nevertheless, more staff are including group assessments on their courses, partly in response to the sector’s persistent emphasis on preparing students for the workplace (Berry, 2007). Participants on this module now work in small groups to design an infographic poster on a jointly agreed aspect of student support/personal tutoring aimed at informing others in their context. Giving our participants direct experience of group assessment was intended to increase their knowledge of the assessment mode, empathise with their students’ experiences and encourage them to enhance their own practices in ways that would promote student success. We also hoped such a reflexive approach would increase awareness of the benefits of group assessment, lessen participants’ fear of them and validate their continued use.

Our paper will be a case study in group assessment and speak to issues in inclusive practice and personalised learning (Forslund Frykedal and Hammar Chiriac, 2018), informational design and information literacy (Secker and Coonan, 2013), and developing communities of practice (Fearon et al, 2012). It will draw on student feedback (module evaluations) and our own observations of two participant cohorts.

Outcomes and Activities

We will introduce the case context briefly (2 mins), explore the design rationale of the new assessment (3 mins), then discuss what choices we made about technology and learning spaces (2 mins). We will then explain how we used pedagogic scaffolding – both face-to-face and online – to facilitate participants’ engagement with the assessment, and the technology chosen to help them produce it (3 mins). We will then share what we have learned about the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of facilitating assessed group work through the process of teaching, assessing and evaluating the module over two iterations (using student and staff feedback, observation and reflection) (6 mins). We will also consider how the experience has prompted our reengagement with the techniques of blended learning; scaffolding and its ‘tipping points’; group formation, management and support and with the constructive alignment process itself and share some ‘next steps’ (4 mins).


  • Berry, E. (2007) ‘Group work and assessment—benefit or burden?’, The Law Teacher, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 19-36, DOI: 10.1080/03069400.2007.9959723.
  • Brooks, C, & Ammons, J. L. (2003) ‘Free-riding in group projects and the effects of timing, frequency and specificity of criteria in peer assessments’, Journal of Education for Business, vol. 75, no. 5, pp. 268-272, DOI: 10.1080/08832320309598613.
  • Fearon, C., McLaughlin, H., Eng, T.Y. (2012) ‘Using student group work in higher education to emulate professional communities of practice’, Education + Training, vol. 54, no. 2/3, pp. 114-125, DOI:10.1108/00400911211210233.
  • Forslund Frykedal, K. & Hammar Chiriac, E. (2018) ‘Student Collaboration in Group Work: Inclusion as Participation’, International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, vol. 65, no. 2, pp. 183-198, DOI: 10.1080/1034912X.2017.1363381.
  • Martin Davies, W. (2009) ‘Groupwork as a Form of Assessment: Common Problems and Recommended Solutions’, Higher Education, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 563-584,
  • Secker, J. and Coonan, E.  (2012) Rethinking Information Literacy. Facet Publishing.
  • Smith, G.G., Sorensen, C., Gump, A., Heindel, A.J., Caris, M., Martinez, C.D. (2011) ‘Overcoming student resistance to group work: Online versus face-to-face’, Internet and Higher Education, vol. 14, pp. 121-128.
  • Soetanto, D. and MacDonald, M. (2017) ‘Group work and the change of obstacles over time: the influence of learning style and group composition’, Active Learning in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 99–113. DOI: 10.1177/1469787417707613.