Inspire - a Teaching Fellows' newsletter

Promoting excellence in Learning and Teaching, driven by Middlesex Senior Fellows of HEA with contributions welcomed from all Middlesex staff.

Perspectives on Active Practice-Based Learning – What we are doing

Dr. Loraine Leeson SFHEA
Active Practice Learning in MA Art and Social Practice and BA Fine Art Social Practice

Educands’ concrete localisation is the point of departure for the knowledge they create of the world. Their world in the last analysis, is the primary and inescapable face of the world itself.
(Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope,1992)

It is well known in arts based research that creative practice generates new knowledge. Students of art have to learn this at a very early stage, with self-directed work commencing during their undergraduate courses. In the BA Fine Art at Middlesex this begins at Level 5, with graduation at Level 6 largely based on a year-long project of students’ own devising. There is no other way to prepare emerging artists for professional practice, since art can only come from within. It is nevertheless the supportive framing and contextualisation offered by these courses that makes it effective.

The MA Art and Social Practice attracts candidates from all creative disciplines, and those from design courses can sometimes struggle with the transition from brief-based teaching to work that is grounded in their own interests, networks and communities. This MA is in fact even more demanding than a more traditional fine art approach, since students are required to develop projects with individuals and groups external to the university. These have to be more than good ideas, but rather designed to make a real difference in the world, however small, and as such require active engagement with others. Weekly seminars provide information, skills and the example and strategies of other artists, while external visits offer experiential learning. However students also need significant individual support, since each project throws up its own challenges. This is provided through tutorials as well as an alternating ‘support group’ and ‘think tank’ where the learning comes from each others’ ideas and experience.

Through the process of devising, developing, realising and troubleshooting projects with communities, students have to find ways to draw on and enhance their existing inter-personal skills and enmesh these with their creative abilities. Since the projects originate from who the students are and how they already relate to the world, the processes they learn become equally part of them. In the end this is where learning becomes most meaningful to the student and, through each, also creates connection between higher education and the wider community.

Dr. Lucille Allain SFHEA. Department of Mental Health & Social Work
Active Practice Based learning:  The North London Social Work Teaching Partnership –NLSWTP- Middlesex University

The North London Social Work Teaching Partnership delivered a  range of partnership active practice-based learning across five authorities in phase one and extended to include a further two employers in phase 2. Over £2m of funding was received from the  Department for Education for the partnership. The partnership is led by Hackney Council, Children and Families Service and is now in phase three; the sustainability. In phase one the partners included: Hackney, Barnet, Enfield, Haringey, Norwood and Middlesex University as the university partner. In phase two Camden Council and Islington Council joined the partnership. The aim was to create an internationally recognised centre of excellence and innovation in social work, practice and education across north London.

The partnership designed and delivered a range of new learning opportunities for social workers, managers and students and strengthened the links between the University and  social work employers. This resulted in learning and  development opportunities focused on all areas of social work practice, theory and research including leadership and management.

There was a diverse range of programme activities including social work practitioners co-teaching some areas of the curriculum and academics engaging in delivering education and training in the workplace.  In addition, the Partnership delivered:
       Learning Symposia Workshops
       Professional development and leadership
       Knowledge and Skills training
       Learning Needs Analysis
Continuing Professional Development opportunities at all levels of the social work workforce across north London including:
       Practice Education  training
       Assessed and Supported Year in Employment for newly qualified social workers
       Reading Groups in Partner authorities to promote research and reflective practice
       Funded MPhil research studentships
       Leadership and management programmes including a new MA Leadership and Management in Social Work and an MBA Social Work in partnership with the Business School.

There is a focus on co-production and the Social Work Service User/Carer Group- Involve lead a number of key activities including a Service User Teaching Partnership Conference. Additional social workers were trained in practice education, leading to enhanced work placement opportunities for social work students leading to improved employment opportunities. The reciprocal learning and close working between the University and partners has led to stronger reciprocal relationships and new research and training opportunities going forward into phase three.

Dr Paula Nottingham SFHEA
Active Practice Learning within a Degree Apprenticeship’

Degree Apprenticeships (DAs) focus on learners/apprentices who are based in the workplace and whose programme includes 20% off-the-job training that includes university study. As a work-integrated programme, the apprentices learn both content about their subject area and learn on the job as a part of their workplace role. One of the modules in the first year of study on the BSc (Hons) Professional Practice in Business to Business Sales is called Learning and Studying at Work. This module engages apprentices to actively learn using three main areas of study Professional Identity, Learning from Experience and The Networked Professional with guided activities to that introduce various ways to think about practice. Drew and Mackie (2011) cite Watkins et al. (2007) who identify three main ways to define learning as ‘active’:  behavioral, cognitive and social dimensions. Watkins et al. (2007) make the links between active learning and developing the type of critical thinking that is relevant to ‘real world’. Robertson discusses the epistemology of active learning for higher education, using Prince’s (2004) definition of active learning as “any type of instructional method which engages students in their learning process and requires meaningful (relevant, authentic) learning activities as well as requiring students to think about what they are doing (metacognition) (2018, p. 20), all prominent considerations of the DA curriculum. A feature of practitioner-based pedagogy for the Learning and Studying at work module is the use of ‘application’ as a way to demonstrate acquired situated knowledge, in this case within sales, in a programme of study that is shared with the organisation and our university partner Consalia Ltd.. To evidence application, guided activities are given that relate to informal day to day routines or opportunities for learning such as shadowing another professional at work. Apprentices then explain and evidence these activities within a reflective commentary and portfolio. These experiences align with Dewey’s views where “application is as much an intrinsic part of genuine reflective inquiry as is alert observation or reasoning itself" (Dewey, 2010, p. 213). As active learners, the apprentices are expected to collect evidence of workplace activity that is evaluated using job-related criteria as well as models and theories from sales practice. Apprentices in turn bring new knowledge and application back to their workplace roles which have a social learning element (Smith and Smith, 20150 relevant to their work teams. As with other work-integrated programmes (e.g. placements) the benefits of taking part in active practice learning while studying at university mean that apprentices can create patterns of study for their DA as well as future learning in the workplace.

Dewey, J. (2010) How We Think, reproduced by Lightning Source UK Ltd., Milton Keynes from the original published in 1910 by D.C. Heath & Co, Boston USA.

Drew, V. and Mackie, L. (2011) ‘Extending the constructs of active learning: implications for teachers' pedagogy and practice’, Curriculum Journal, 22:4, 451-467,

Prince, M. (2004) Journal of Engineering Education. Jul 2004, 93(3): 23-231.

Robertson Lorayne, (2018), Toward an Epistemology of Active Learning in Higher Education and Its Promise, in Anastasia Misseyanni , Miltiadis D. Lytras , Paraskevi Papadopoulou , Christina Marouli (ed.) Active Learning Strategies in Higher Education, pp.17 – 44.

Smith, S. and Smith, L. (2015) ‘Social learning: supporting yourself and your peers’, in Helyer, R. (2015) The Work-based Student Handbook, London: Palgrave, pp 184-204.

Watkins, C., E. Carnell, and C. Lodge (2007) Effective learning in classrooms. London:

Ruth Miller. SFHEA  Health & Education.
What is active Practice Learning for students already in work?

When students go on placement we often ask them to relate theory (from their course) to their practice.  In fact this is often one of the assessment criteria for gaining a higher grade.
But for my students who are already in work it is more a case of relating their practice to theory. Or more precisely developing theory or learning out of their practice. Critical reflection on their practice becomes key to maximising the learning – for example asking such structured questions about their own practice both when things aren’t going well  why was that an issue? What problem solving techniques did I use to address that issue ? and  when they are going well who did I have to engage with to make that happen and how did the way I communicate facilitate that exchange?
Although the depth and level of criticality will vary depending on the academic level required, this type of structured reflection can be useful for all students practice learning.

Prof Erica Howard, SFHEA: School of Law

As regards ‘active practice learning’ in law, all our first year students have to do a ‘moot’: a mock court case, with a judge (from our staff, usually the module leader) and then students get the role of senior or junior counsel for the claimant or senior or junior counsel for the defendant. They have to prepare their statement to the court/judge and then the judge can ask them questions. They are asked to dress appropriate for a legal counsel and to address the judge in the correct way, stand up when it is their turn to present their statement etc.. They also prepare bundles with items of evidence and should refer to this in their statement. They should base their arguments on previous case law and other relevant material. 

There is also a mooting competition between universities nationally and the student law society at MDX university.  These competitions also take place internationally. Two colleagues (Lughaidh Kerin and Sara Hourani) are preparing at team of third year students for an international moot competition in alternative dispute resolution. There is also an EU law mooting competition our students have entered in the past.

The moot in law is described as:

a mock judicial proceeding set up to examine a hypothetical case as an academic exercise.
"the object of a moot is to provide practice in developing an argument"

This is from one of our second year students in the student room ( )

What is a moot?

This is where you and your group members will argue a hypothetical case in front of a judge (your module leader). These are great fun because they are the practical side of law and you get to work with three other people independently (two claimants and two defendants) and it's completely up to you how you impress the judge during the exam. You will have a couple of weeks to prepare.

Dr Alan Page. SFHEA. Associate Professor in Environmental Health
Active Practice Learning
My goal is to create capable practitioners in the field of Occupational Health and Safety.  However whilst the field appears to have a natural balance between safety and health, the reality in practice is very different.  For many years the profession has focused on safety for example machinery safety, falls from height and other hazards that end in accidents.  However the data that exists suggests that this focus is poorly considered, for example the European Agency for Health and Safety at Work estimate that 150,000 people die each year at work, made up of 142,000 deaths through occupational disease and only 8,900 from accidents.

So why does the profession and the student body struggle to practice with a health focus.  The answer lies in the breadth and depth of the foundational knowledge for toxicology, as you need to have a firm understanding in chemistry and physiology to recognise the impacts of a hazardous agent on health. 
With this in mind we have constructed our award around providing this grounding and augmenting it with practical experiences in the laboratory and multi-use teaching space in term 1, with term 2 used to embed the approach through iterative exercises and coursework that summates the practice skills needed to appraise a hazardous agent in a real world situation.

As Hess (1999) suggests “learning is not a spectator sport” and so we have designed bi-weekly experiences within the multi-use teaching space using scenarios to build up professional skills.  As an example in week 2 (term 2) we provide a series of real world case studies for the students to work with to determine the nature of the harm, risk and solutions.  The tutors and technicians act as the employees and we can be questioned about our job, task and situation.  Whilst we offer this, the students at this early stage focus on the chemical appraisal rather than the way in which the chemicals are used.   As a result their initial appraisal are often flawed and we use these mistakes, that are often repeated in real world practice, as a learning tool to build upon. Armed with this they begin to realise the critical importance of talking to staff to understand the reality of how these hazardous agents are used in practice.  

The experience is iterative as we return to this, using different case studies, to develop their skills and this is rounded off with an assignment that focuses on the core principles.   This builds upon the notion of learners constructing their own practice through meaningful activities (Lima, Andersson and Saalman 2016).   The process of framing and reframing skills is key to the active learning approach and allows the learning to be more immersive and inclusive of the realities of practice. Students can try out differing approaches and develop their own practice methods that work for them, through this iterative cycle. 

Hess, G.F. (1999) Principle 3: Good practice encourages active learning: Seven principles for good practice in legal education. Journal of Legal Education, 49(3): pp 401-417
Lima, R.M., Andersson, P.N. and Saalman, E. (2016) Active learning in engineering education: a (re)introduction.  European Journal of Engineering Education, 42(1), pp 1-4