At recent events, including last week’s Learning and Teaching conference, the Learning Design team have been trying out some new activities to help teaching staff think about how they design for learning. You may have seen some of these new tools and activities described in earlier posts in this category, or had the chance to have a go at using them in development events. In this post I’d like to look at the bigger picture of how these might fit together with some of the other services we offer.

At the conference, we hosted a ‘cracker barrel’ table. The staff that came to see us were offered giant post-its (no small motivation!) in exchange for drawing us a picture of what they value most in their teaching. You can view these in our online album here (we’ll be adding more from other events to this album too):

What I value most in teaching

The resulting images were not just works of art. They could also be seen as ‘teaching metaphors’ (McShane 2005). We asked participants to expand on these, and break down what was happening in the image using three key questions:

  • what is the role of the tutor?
  • what is the role of the student?
  • what is the role of technology?

Common themes in the role of the tutor included motivation, guidance, facilitation and enabling, linking learners together and lighting ‘sparks’ and ‘light bulbs’ of understanding. There was also an emphasis on pastoral roles, being ‘approachable’, ’empathetic’ and a ‘confidant’. The role of the student was widely agreed to be participative, with comments noting the importance of engaging, contributing and becoming autonomous. Some comments also noted that the distinction between tutor and student is not so dichotomous, and that learning happens in a community where the participants all learn together. Comments on the role of technology mostly focused on supporting access to learning, as well as ‘fostering community’ and enabling sharing. You can see all the contributions in this PDF file (3.5MB, captured using the Post-It Plus app).

Do more of what you loveSadly that was all we had time for on the day, but we did ask them to go away and think about how their image related to their own programmes and modules. Is that ideal teaching moment what’s happening in those modules now? And if not, what could they change that might enable them to do more of what they value?

This led me to think about a model that I had been introduced to by our very own Deborah Forbes, in a staff development session on Thriving in a Changing Environment*. The model is Appreciative Inquiry (AI), and as a positive approach to change management it has a lot to offer as we prepare for Waterside. Here’s what some of the experts have to say about AI:

“The traditional approach to change is to look for the problem, do a diagnosis, and find a solution. The primary focus is on what is wrong or broken …Appreciative Inquiry suggests that we look for what works in an organization …Because the statements are grounded in real experience and history, people know how to repeat their success.” (Hammond, 1998, pp.6-7)


“[Appreciative Inquiry] deliberately seeks to discover people’s exceptionality – their unique gifts, strengths, and qualities. It actively searches and recognizes people for their specialties – their essential contributions and achievements. And it is based on principles of equality of voice – everyone is asked to speak about their vision of the true, the good, and the possible.” (Cooperrider, 2001, p.12)

Although there is no one definitive model for AI, the 4-D aproach is widely used. This consists of four main steps:

  1. Discover: The identification of organisational processes that work well.
  2. Dream: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. Design: Planning and prioritising processes that would work well.
  4. Destiny: The implementation (execution) of the proposed design. (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005, p.17)

In terms of programme and module design, the steps we covered at the conference were targeted at the ‘discover’ and ‘dream’ stages – by helping staff to think about what works really well for them and their students, they can begin to think about what their programme or module might look like if they did more of it. This begins a process that then feeds in to the beginning of the CAIeRO, where staff are asked to outline their aims for the programme or module, create a mission statement for it, and think about the ‘look and feel’ (see this post for more on this). The CAIeRO process then leads the course team through the ‘design’ stage towards the ‘destiny’ or delivery of the new or re-designed modules.

Do you have positive stories to share about what you love about teaching, what’s working well, and what it should look like in the future? Would you like to contribute to the conversation? Then why not add your comments, send us a picture (along with a brief outline of what’s happening), or write us a case study? You can comment on this post, or email the Learning Design team at


Cooperrider, D.L. (2001) Why Appreciative Inquiry? In Cooperrider, D.L., Hammond, S. and Royal, C. (eds) Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry. Plano: The Thin Book Publishing Company.

Cooperrider, D.L. and Whitney, D (2005) Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Hammond, S. (1998) The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry. Plano: The Thin Book Publishing Company.

McShane, K. (2005) Metaphors for University Teaching. Learning and Teaching in Action. 4(1). Available from: [Accessed 29th May 2015]

* Look out for future sessions on the Staff Development site on NILE (note, you will need to be logged in to NILE for this link to work).

Tagged with: