Originally posted on jobs.ac.uk and medium.com

This post is inspired by the work of the University of York, in particular, the idea of a ‘York Pedagogy’ and a comment from Chef Jamie Oliver I read in a paper a while back saying you don’t need a complicated recipe for Avocado on Toast. So I wondered if education was really that easy or are we in higher education over theorising?

This is a trilogy of posts, with the second and third posts scheduled for the next two Tuesdays.

What is your signature ‘Institutional Pedagogy’?

Many institutions just don’t know what they stand for in a crowded market. We ‘strive towards excellence’. What does this mean? What would students be able to say that they got from their £9000 per year tuition fees in your institution? What would it look and feel like?

Would it be Simulated Practice or is it something else, employment centred curriculum or maybe flexible and distance learning on all programmes? If it’s Simulated Practice, how could it be taught, with scenarios and role play or virtual reality (VR) in the future (Times Higher Education Supplement, 2016)? This post is more about questions than I have answers, but I hope it get you thinking about the questions you should be asking of your institution or even department.

Vocational or Traditional

Is your institution more traditional or vocational in its current curriculum? If your institution is a vocational education specialist, with a subject that includes Engineering, Allied Health, Law, Journalism and Business as broad areas then you’d have a very employer centred curriculum. These are disciplines that are highly vocational, scenario based and practical in nature and would require an estate that reflects this, as well as all your activity in developing and designing curricula. This does not mean that your estate could not teach more traditional subjects such as English, Psychology and History. Both vocational and traditional disciplines have group work and flexible learning spaces as a common attribute.

Even if you don’t have a flexible estate, you can use web-based voting tools such as Poll Everywhere, Socrative or Mentimeter to add some interactivity to your teaching. It’s about the learning activities that students do in and out of class that makes the difference and the alignment with low stakes assessments and your learning outcomes that are key, the so-called ‘constructive alignment’ (Biggs and Tang, 2011) .

What do we need to consider when we discuss what Learning at an institution looks like?

In broad terms, these are the questions you should ask. I have put some sub-questions and explanation to each of these questions.

Who are you teaching? How old are they, what qualifications do they have, are they Home, EU or non-EU students. Do you understand your learners prior learning?

Why are you teaching? Why is the discipline area being taught, what’s the aim of the discipline and how does this link to your institutional signature pedagogy? There is always a tension between the schools of thought. On the one hand, those academics who love their subject for itself and believe skills from it can be used elsewhere (English, History) versus those academics who love their subject for the profession their students will go into (e.g. Engineering, Medicine, Law and Optometry)

What are you teaching? How are you deciding on what are you are teaching, are you involving local businesses etc in the co-design of our curricula to make them more cutting edge and the graduates of these courses more employable?

When are you teaching? At what time do you teach your students? This might not seem important, but some subjects might be better suited to earlier in the day or later at night. The length of your contact hours is another consideration to make.

Where are we teaching? This is increasingly becoming important even fashionable to discuss ‘learning spaces’. There are advantages and disadvantages to thinking about this. An advantage is making the learning environment looks and feels better for teachers and students alike. A disadvantage is that most universities are taking in more students and you might not have space for all of them. Do you need to see all your students in one place, can you use webinar software, screencasts and allow your students to create localised communities of learning in cities across the UK or even the world?

What do students want in terms of the technology-rich environment?

Whatever you think about teaching and how you teach your subject, your student’s views do matter. In a recent international report on how technology might impact students use of the technology-rich environment for learning (Teach Online, 2016).

[Students have] greater expectations for the use of technology-rich environments for learning, for access to resources, and for communication and collaboration with instructors and other students.

Assessment and feedback

  • Improve access to assignments
  • Improve access to grades
  • Improved feedback

Learning resources

  • Lectures available in the VLE
  • Easier access to learning resources

Communication and collaboration

  • Information about cancelled sessions/timetable changes in the VLE
  • Ability to contact the lecturer
  • Ability to easily organise group work
  • Ability to send ideas and questions to other students
  • Would like having access to all students on the same course without having to consciously swap details.

Technological considerations

  • Frustrated with the Moodle* app (which only 30% had tried)
  • Disliked using Facebook for study

*Moodle was the VLE here.


Confident higher education institutions know what their signature pedagogy is and they stick to it, not swaying to the political tides of education, that is increasing in England over the past decade.

So next time you consider curriculum, you might want to keep some of the simple points above when deciding how your institution plans its signature pedagogy. No big recipe books or strategy documents needed, saving time and money to implement innovative pedagogy and crucially find out if it worked or not in real situations. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spice up my avocado on toast! Now, where did I leave that recipe book?!

In the second of this trilogy of posts, I discuss the issues around distance learning, a topic that many universities have been considering as FutureLearn and other Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) grow their portfolios.


Biggs, J and Tang, C. (2011): Teaching for Quality Learning at University, (McGraw-Hill and Open University Press, Maidenhead)

Teach Online (2016). A 2016 Look at the future of online learning. Available online: http://teachonline.ca/sites/default/files/tools-trends/downloads/2016_look_at_online_learning.pdf Accessed 14th February 2017.

Times Higher Education Supplement (2016) Virtual Reality Could it Revolutionise Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/virtual-reality-could-it-revolutionise-higher-education Accessed 14th February 2017.

York Pedagogy: What and why, how and why (n.d). Available online: https://www.york.ac.uk/media/staffhome/learningandteaching/documents/propel/28280-Forum%20issue%20supplement%20LR%20final.pdf. Accessed 14th February 2017.