A tale of two workshops

Whether dealing with latecomers, the prevalence of mobile devices, or the incidence of learning and language difference, approaches to facilitation can have dramatic effect on the experience and outcomes of education. Two contrasting examples are placed side-by-side in this narrative description of a hypothetical digital workshop. The first person narration takes its reader on a present tense journey through the successes and challenges of teaching a diverse student cohort. Rendered in parallel, positive and negative attitudes to inclusive practice reveal how the tutor enacts his role to greater and lesser effect. This juxtaposition gives rise to a version of best practice that begins with respecting learners and ends with an enhanced experience for tutor and students alike. End notes expand on the scholarly basis for the ideas expressed in the story.

Published on 19th October 2018 | Written by Mike Rymer | Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

I am a Technical Tutor for moving image and deploy this skill as a central resource, without alignment to any one course. My remit is to deliver a procedural appreciation of editing software. The programme will run for several weeks with a step-by-step approach that will deepen learning at each weekly workshop. The aim is to introduce and demystify new tools so that, over the sessions, students will learn to successfully edit their videos. There are 20 names on the list; 2nd year undergraduate students who need to make short promotional videos, but will likely have no previous experience as filmmakers.

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  1. Cooper (2009:72) suggests that: ‘feeling able to make mistakes is … part of valuing diversity and a key element of an inclusive learning environment’.
  2. Blair (2011:169) cautions that if a teacher is established as authoritarian, this may inhibit student contributions.
  3. Emerging in the writings of Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950s, ‘unconditional positive regard’ describes the unqualified acceptance of inherent value in an individual, which cannot be impoverished by imperfections of behaviour. Approaching the student-teacher relationship from a place of unconditional positive regard, accepting students as imperfect (Cowan, 1998, cited in Pollak, 2009:276) will serve inclusivity and reduce anxiety that can inhibit learning.
  4. ‘Without an overview or purpose to the learning activity, learners focus on trying to work it out for themselves, reducing their ability to retain strings of verbal information’ (Cooper, 2009: 74)
  5. For Pollak (2009:279) a learning community is enriched when supported to become more diverse in its learning styles.
  6. For Cooper (2009:71) ‘the more inclusive the learning environment, the fewer additional support strategies are necessary’.
  7. Cronin cites the Director of MIT Media Lab: ‘I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity (Ito, J., 2011 cited in Cronin 2014:405).
  8. Cooper (2009:64) proposes that dyslexia is a social construct, resulting from assumptions that favour those perceived as neurotypical.
  9. In line with a social model of disability, many commentators have suggested that disadvantage comes not from individual difference but from the inability of institutions to recognise achievement in different ways (see Cooper, 2009).
  10. In the tradition of constructivism, Patricia Murphy notes that ‘in order to teach one must first establish what students know’ (2008:31). Murphy cites Von Glasersfeld as party to this consensus: ‘the teacher’s goal is to gain understanding of the students’ understanding’ (ibid:32)
  11. Dating back at least to the cognitive psychology of Piaget (c1950), Constructivism suggests that learners construct knowledge by building on prior experience (Biggs & Tang, 2007). Viewed through this lens, it cannot be assumed that different people learn the same thing from the same information, because new understandings are constructed in relation to prior experience. ‘We need to be aware that we are rarelyif ever ‘writing on a blank slate’ (Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2009:10).
  12. Pollak (2009:277) echoes many commentators when asserting that ‘accessible approaches for neurodiversity often amount to no more than good learning, teaching, and assessment practice’.
  13. Cronin (2014:407) notes that ‘Students and educators come to higher education learning spaces as networked individuals’ owing to ‘a broader shift in information and communication ecologies’ (acknowledging the work of Rainie and Wellman (2012) in formulating the language of ‘networked individualism’.). The advent of global and democratised communication infrastructure has given rise to greater connectivity between individuals than ever before, with far reaching implicationsfor educational paradigms. As educators, using networked technologies allows us to ‘leverage’ the familiarity that our students already have with these spaces as a part of their digitally dependent and independent identities (Couros, 2006 cited in Cronin, 2014:408); identities in tension between individualization and reliance on others (Ryberg & Larsen, 2008 cited in Cronin, 2014).
  14. For Cooper (2009: 76) using ‘multiple perceptual pathways strengthens memory’ while ‘avoiding perceptual barriers to learning’ and allowing the making of ‘meaning either sequentially or holistically’.
  15. Bhagat and O’Neill (2011:224) caution that art and design curricular is Western in bias, to the exclusion of those from alternative national backgrounds.
  16. Pollak (2009:278) evokes the position of Cottrell (2001) in contending that: ‘too many lecturers address the students whom they wish were in the room (ie. people resembling themselves), rather than those who are actually present’.
  17. Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (2009: 354) applaud the ‘deconstruction of artefacts’ as one way to ease the acquisition of skills.
  18. Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (2009:21) contend that ‘there are often balanced judgements needed about tapering support so as to avoid spoon feeding and to promote the ability to think independently’ (whilst highlighting the contribution of Lev Vygotsky to this principle of ‘scaffolding’).


Bhagat, D. & O’Neill, P. (2011) Inclusive Practices, Inclusive Pedagogies: Learning from Widening Participation Research in Art and Design Higher Education. Croydon: CPI

Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. 3rd Edition. Berkshire: Open University Press

Blair, B. (2011) At the end of a huge crit in the summer, it was “crap” – I’d worked really hard but all she said was “fine” and I was gutted. In: Bhagat, D. & O’Neill, P. (Eds.) Inclusive Practice, Inclusive Pedagogy: Learning from Widening Participation Research in Art and Design Higher Education. Croydon: CPI. 159-175

Cooper, R. (2009) Dyslexia. In: Pollak, D. (ed.) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. 63-89

Cronin, C. (2014). Networked learning and identity development in open online spaces. In: Bayne, S., Jones, C., de Laat, M., Ryberg, T. and Sinclair, C. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning. University of Edinburgh: UK. 405-411

Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S., (2009) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: enhancing academic practice. 3rd Edition. Abingdon: Routledge

Grant, D. (2009) The Psychological Assessment of Neurodiversity. In: Pollak, D. (Ed.) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. 33-62

Murphy, P. (2008) Defining Pedagogy. In: Hall, K., Murphy, P. and Soler, J. Pedagogy and Practice: Culture and Identities. UK: SAGE. 28-33

Pollak, D. (Ed.) (2009) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

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