Design for Active Learning (D4AL)

What is Design for Active Learning?

Design for Active Learning (D4AL) is about developing activities which encourage students to become actively involved in their learning experiences. D4AL offers a scholarly approach to learning and teaching which is evidence based and demonstrates the impact of intervention through an iterative cycle of evaluation and design.

How does Design for Active Learning connect to Learning and Teaching Enhancement?

D4AL encourages the adoption of iterative loops of evaluation and reflection, for example Schon’s ‘reflective practitioner‘ and Brookfield’s ‘critically reflective teacher‘ alongside continual dialogue with the student voice and reference to collected data on student learning.

How will staff benefit from a Design for Active Learning approach?

D4AL is about supporting staff to ‘teach less to teach more’, to support student centred activity and enhance their own teaching practice through a scholarly approach to curriculum development [1]

Design for Active Learning cycle

When is a Design for Active Learning approach required?

Areas where D4AL will be most useful may include

  • ‘Sharing Practice’ across disciplines and faculties for joining up pockets of excellence and student satisfaction
  • Disseminating online best learning and teaching practices both online and face-to-face
  • Developing appropriate learning and teaching interventions in reponse to data informed drivers (e.g. external NSS and TEF and internal SEERs and AMRP)

Where does Design for Active Learning begin?

An intial meeting with Teaching Enhancement Advisors from the Directorate of LTE often begins with questions like these;

  • What works well with your students?
  • What are the causes for concern?
  • What does success look like?
  • How can we help you achieve this?

Why does Design for Active Learning matter?

D4AL supports the implementation of the Education Strategy and the university’s strategic themes of Employability, Internationalisation and Inclusivity.  D4AL lies at the heart of the university’s commitment to an ‘excellence agenda’ across all its activities, including learning and teaching[2] while also supporting the continuous development of curricula and co-curricular learning[3]

Front Cover of University of Hull Strategic Plan

Who facilitates the Design for Active Learning process?

Teaching Enhancement Advisors have developed D4AL as a consistent approach to supporting the enhancement of learning and teaching across the university; this enhancement might or might not include technology.

How do I find out more?

Visit the D4AL page on the LTE Sharepoint site which is currently under development or contact

[1] Approach to Quality, Standards and Enhancement

[2] University of Hull Strategic Plan

[3] University of Hull Education Strategy 



crowd of lego people

Stumbled onto a video of Gardener Campbell talking about educating the whole person.  Sidetracked through the serendipity which characterises the internet. Start at A and find yourself at Q and R without being too sure how.

On the way I bumped into teaching scholarship – as you do – and an interesting analogy from the late 1990’s by Randy Bass in The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem? Citing Boyer, Bass claims problems in research are welcomed while problems in teaching are seen as failures of practice. Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) is remains a seminal work on SoTL (less than Scholarship Reassessed (1997) by Glassick, Huber, Maeroff) and its principles of scholarly approaches to teaching still hold i.e. ‘It should be public, susceptible to critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use by other members of one’s scholarly community.’ (Bass, 1999:2)

The HEA report Defining and supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) a sector wide study suggests SoTL themes hve expanded. They may now involve peer review, CoP and more interdisciplinary approaches. It also involves student engagement through redesign of curricula which encourage undergraduates to be research informed and engaged. The HEA report claims continued confusion around the definition and practice of SoTL. It recommends linking SoTL to the TEF, adding CPD to workload models, making SoTL more explicit in the UKPSF and greater recognition  of SoTL across all REF units of measurement.

baby with a laptop

The value of SoTL is in the L. How students Learn. Few benefit from lecture style transmission of content unless it’s recorded so they can revisit and review. I’m unlikely to meet Gardener Campbell but have watched and listened, paused to revisit, shared (seen it reshared) and stored the link for future reference.

Any HEI with a policy for recording timetabled teaching sessions supports their students learning. They can catch up on what they’ve missed through illness or unforeseen circumstances and have meaningful discussions; the benefit of so called flipped learning i.e. access to transmitted content at a time and place which suits then get together – face to face or online – for discussion with the benefit of time to reflect and craft comments. A deeper  approach which – if linked to a collaborative document – presents opportunities to extend learning by searching and sharing associated links, commenting on the contributions of others and summarising the whole learning experience. What’s not to like?

logo for Box of Broadcasts

Using audio and video is a no-brainer. So much content is freely available (eg British Film InstituteFilm Education,  Vimeo, YouTube, Teacher Tube, Ted Talks, Khan Academy, MIT) or licenced for use within UK HE like the excellent Box of Broadcasts (BoB). You can make your own audio/video with webcams and mobile devices although this raises the DC (digital capabilities) issue. Not  problem. Lets link it to scholarly practice and persuade institutions to invest in the digital skills of their staff as professional development. It also raises issues of IP which can be complex and opening the copyright box will be the topic of a follow-on blog (brave, stupid or what?!)  😉


Back to Gardener Campbell and Educating the Whole Person. Gardener says granular analytics does not represent the whole person yet the current push towards big data claims it can be used to design personalised learning. How? Footfalls and logins give little meaningful information about learning. Counting the number of VLE sites is irrelevant compared to what goes on there. Ditto forum posts. The data tells us nothing about content quality. We need more critical thinking around the types of data collected and why.

climbing a wall

It all comes back to scholarship. Inquiry into what you do and why you do it. How do you know it works? Where is the evidence of impact? SoTL provides a framework for taking this forward.

Lets be more joined up about linking CPD with Academic Practice. Encourage action research, action learning sets, appreciative inquiry, critical reflection and loops of experiential learning.

Let’s make opportunities to get people around a table to talk about teaching, underpinned with research into how students learn, and how best to design learning experiences which can be personalised to encourage motivation, enthusiasm and ownership.

Lets start investing as much into learning and teaching as we do research and technologies.

Let’s bring in the student voice and build mechanisms for recognising and rewarding evaluated learning design.

Let’s do all this. Now! We’re all here to support the student experience so let’s have some exciting thoughts about how to go forward into the future.

images from pixabay except BoB from

Building a digital capabilities framework Part 1

In my new role I will be working with colleagues on the TEL Team to develop a digital capabilities framework. There is already excellent work being done at the University of Hull to support students, for example the Digital Student site at

Digital Student Home page from the University of Hull at
Digital Student Home page from the University of Hull at

There is also the Hull Employability Awards where one of seven sets of criteria is Digital Literacy and Knowledge Management. Attributes include the following recommendations for demonstrating digital confidence and capability:

  • Choose and use digital tools and appropriate blends of technology to suit needs
  • Use both generic and specialist digital tools, data sets and service effectively and efficiently
  • Locate, access, understand, critically evaluate, manage and use information in multiple formats (including digital and physical) from a wide range of sources
  • Manage digital identities and public-private boundaries in online social spaces to maintain professional reputation, stay safe and cope with distractions and digital overload
  • Engage with and collaborate in online information and communications networks.

Externally to the university there is the Jisc Digital Capabilities framework at 

Digital Capabilities Framework image from

Jisc have also developed digital capabilities profiles which include sets for teachers, learners and researchers and map across the the model above.

There is also the Jisc NUS Benchmarking Tool which adopts a different approach. Firstly this establishes the starting point, then suggests what Developing, Developed and Outstanding digital practices might look like developed as part of the Jisc Digital Student Project and the Jisc Change agents’ network

I can’t miss out my old time favourite which is the SCONUL 7 Pillars of Information Literacy through a Digital Literacy Lens and the first framework to recognise the importance of accessibility and digital inclusion.

I think it’s important for a DCF to be relevant to the world beyond the university and the educational sector.  The Government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy was published December 2014, a few months before the Make or Break the UK’s Digital Future report. The strategy includes ten actions which the government will be taking forward in their drive to achieve digital inclusion which seems to me the best approach to begin with. Inclusion not exclusion. In particular Actions 3, 4 and 8 may be useful for developing a baseline of digital capabilities for HEIs.

3. Give all civil servants (replace with academics) the digital capabilities to use and improve government services (replace with student learning experiences). Methods to achieve this include identification of the digital capability needed to do jobs and provide services to users, mapping out what skills individuals have at present, then provide training* where needed to fill any gaps.

4. agree a common definition of digital skills and capabilities – in this case the definitions that Go ON UK will consult on, agree and publish (see below)

8. bring digital capability support into one place through Go ON UK.

The starting point for all frameworks must be No 4; a common definition of digital skills and capabilities. The GoOn framework and set of Assessment questions both offer useful starter conversation points while the Digital Unite website has sets of digital skills resources to help achieve confidence with the five areas identified in the GoOn Framework. These areas are:

  • Managing information – find, manage and store digital information and content
  • Communicating – communicate, interact, collaborate, share and connect with others
  • Transacting – purchase and sell goods and services; organise your finances; register for and use digital government services
  • Problem-solving – increase independence and confidence by solving problems using digital tools and finding solutions
  • Creating – engage with communities and create basic digital content
GoOn UK Assessment questions downloadable from
GoOn UK Assessment questions downloadable from

Do you feel confident with all of these?

I think they offer a solid baseline of generic digital capabilities on which to build. We should all feel capable of managing these digital ways of working and if not, know where to go for appropriate support and resources.


  • I have a problem with the word training when it comes to technology enhanced learning and teaching and believe it would be better re-framed as Digital Academic Practice. Combining technology training with a digital form of CPD and teacher education, which includes digital pedagogies as well as practices, may help make it more relevant to academics than technology training on its own has been doing so far.

More about this in Building a Digital Capabilities Framework Part 2.

Why digital capabilities matter

Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework image from 

Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future was published by the UK government in February 2015. It contains the recommendation for defining the internet as a utility service, which should be available for all to access and use. It calls for the entire workforce to embrace current technological changes and acquire new and differing levels of digital skills needed to interact with digital technologies. These skills being necessary life skills as digital literacy is needed to fully participate in society (p6).

The impact of the internet on the educational sector and the need for adaptation to new digital ways of working is clear. There is reference to the ways digital technology can challenge traditional methods of delivering education and how teachers need to adapt and educational institutions must place greater emphasis on providing every citizen with adaptable digital skills (p7). The report contains the greatest details for schools and FE but makes some specific references to HE. This includes the need for digitally-skilled graduates (p10). Because digital literacy has become an essential tool underpinning almost all jobs (p11) universities should  ensure all graduates are digitally competent (p12)..


Introducing digital capabilities

image of a cat looking at a laptop with the txt On the Internet no one knows you're a cat

image from

We need to understand the internet.

We need more conversations about the impact of the internet on professional and personal lives.

We need to agree what constitutes digital capabilities and skill-sets.

A digital capabilities resource centre within an HEI might include the following:

  • develop a professional online identity
  • communicate professionally online
  • create an effective online presentation
  • source copyright free content
  • knowing how the internet can support subject specialisms
  • staying safe online
  • protecting data online
  • evaluating and authenticating online content
  • reliably telling the difference between peer reviewed knowledge, public information and personal biased opinion
  • understanding how everything online is monitored, tracked and recorded
  • knowing digital footprints are permanent
  • looking on google to see what information prospective mentors – partners – employers have access to
  • taking advantage of the affordances of digital connection and collaboration for learning, teaching and research
  • supporting and enhancing learning and teaching with effective online resources and activities
  • ensuring graduate attributes include those of the digital kind
  • understanding the social impact of the internet
  • understand both benefits and barriers of digital ways of working

Paul Gilster in Digital Literacy (1997) suggested digital literacy was about ideas not keystrokes. Nearly two decades on, technology has advanced to such an extent that a working knowledge of relevant keystrokes has become essential. Digital capabilities today should include ideas as well as keystrokes.  Glister also described the ability to make informed judgement about ‘unfiltered’ content a core competency and this need for criticality remains core to any digital capabilities framework.