Playful Learning – a project update from Joe Francis at Truro Knowledge Spa

Incubator fellow Joe Francis, Clinical Skills Tutor for the BMBS Medicine programme, reveals his plans to deploy gamification to revolutionise clinical skills pedagogy #EduPLAYtion

It’s been an exciting start to this incubator project! We are aiming to investigate playful learning strategies and gamification, using our findings to implement these innovative learning strategies within the Universities BMBS medical curriculum and beyond!

The project thus far has been split into three distinct phases:

Phase 1

Initial Scoping Research Study (October 2018 – March 2019)
This research aims to better understand utilisation of the Moodle and Google Suite online learning environments by our current year 1-5 BMBS Medicine students. Data will be gathered through both quantitative and qualitative questions posed within an online questionnaire.

Phase 2

The EduPLAYtion Faculty Learning Community (January – July 2019)

A monthly learning community starting Wednesday January 30th initially for 6 months. This exciting set of workshops aims to start a transdisciplinary conversation about playful learning and the incorporation of such pedagogies into current curricula within higher education.

Phase 3

Development and Implementation of a Resource (January – July 2019)
Using data from the scoping research alongside evidence and experience-based opinion gained from the EduPLAYtion learning community, Clinical Fellows and a student committee, a co-design strategy will be used to develop a gamified learning resource with the aim of trialling this in the summer.

Project progress to date

So far Phase 1 is well under way and speakers for our Faculty Learning Community are being organised with some exciting presentations surrounding digital badging, the hidden curriculum and the physiology of play currently lined up for the New Year! Follow us on our blog site to hear all the latest updates!

In addition to these exciting developments, our project has thus far allowed us to collaborate with the FXPLUS Academic Development Team, specialist scholars in Playful Learning and higher education providers from around the country. This positive momentum will only continue as we begin our FLC curriculum.

Our next steps will be crucial to the project as we aim to begin collecting our research data and disseminating findings from our workshop collaborations, which we hope to utilise to inform the current Education Strategy Consultation.

Follow @josephfra on Twitter for the latest updates on this project using the hashtag #EduPLAYtion

Alternatively, visit our blog: https://eduplaytionblog.blogspot.com/


Utilising Digital Tools to Enhance Learning in the Laboratory. Highlights from Dr Nicky King’s Presentation.

AccidentsWalking into a university laboratory for the first time can be terrifying. Your practical instructions appear to be written in code. You smile at your laboratory partner prodding a thriving Staphylococcus aureus petri dish, and wish you had taken that gap year in South America.

In my first microbiology laboratory session, I managed to spill a vial of E.coli (luckily not 0157:H7) over my hands and set fire to my laboratory coat. In the following weeks glass shattered if I looked at it, experiments were ruined by my poor pipetting techniques and I was constantly losing data written on scraps of paper.

Wondrously, I did graduate and now recognise these were all valuable mistakes to make. However, could there be more efficient ways of learning good laboratory practise than setting fire to oneself?

Dr Nicky King says ‘yes!’

The Talk - Smart Worksheets and Simulations

On Wednesday 7th November, Dr King organised a talk on Streatham campus to showcase the recent results of her Education Incubator-funded project, which used Learning Science smart worksheets as a resource for Bioscience and Natural Science practicals. The project has also introduced Learning Science simulations for students to undertake prior to laboratory sessions.

Students may have little or no laboratory experience, turning simple experiments into laborious processes, taking hours.

The pre-laboratory simulations can replicate techniques that students need in the first few weeks of laboratory practicals, such as ‘How to handle a pipette’. The simulations give students the opportunity to make mistakes without wasting resources and damaging equipment, while increasing their confidence. Many students have been using these simulations before laboratory sessions and, encouragingly, re-visiting the simulations after the laboratory session to reinforce their learning.

Scientist holding tube with boiling fuming liquid over burner, lab experiment

Dr King has worked closely with Learning Science to develop fantastic interactive worksheets, where students can input their practical data and work through calculations online. The interactive worksheets inform the students of any mistakes they have made in real-time and, for the cost of a mark, show the solution.

An issue I found at university was the delay between performing the practical and the deadline for the calculations. Ten days after a laboratory session, I had certainly forgotten the key elements of the practical and the meaning of my data. However, these work sheets allow students to input their data in the laboratory or immediately afterwards, cementing students’ knowledge of the practical.

Student Feedback

So what do students think?

  • Responses have been very positive, in particular the worksheet’s detailed feedback. This allows students to manipulate their own data, learn from their mistakes and complete calculations instead of becoming stuck and giving up completely.


  • Engagement has been high, with many students repeating both the simulations and worksheets. Laboratory sessions have been more efficient, with students successfully completing titrations, a difficult practical, on the first attempt.


  • Lecturers have noted that students appear to be more confident in the lab, ask fewer questions about “Which button does what?” and focus more on the science being taught.


  • Worksheets are automatically marked in real-time, dramatically reducing lecturer marking time. As the worksheets explain where the students have gone wrong, lecturers have noted a decrease in student queries, demonstrating the effectiveness of the resource.


  • Simulations and worksheets are not limited to undergraduate students. These resources may be useful to members of staff, post-graduate research students and masters research students who want to refresh their knowledge or learn new techniques.
What Next?

Learning Science are planning to develop new simulations in pharmacology, ecology and other sectors of biology. In fact, the applications are endless.

How do you think Learning Science could develop further simulations and worksheets? Leave your comments below!

For more information, please contact N.C.King@exeter.ac.uk




Farewell from Project Officer, Cameron Winton

CameronWintonProfileThe last nine months have been a very exciting time for me, both personally and professionally. I moved to a new city, I passed my driving test and got my license, made a lot of new friends in Exeter and on top of that I’ve had nine months in a brand new position as Higher Education project Officer at the University of Exeter’s Education Incubator.

As a Higher Education project Officer I’ve had the opportunity to dip my toes in a lot of different fields which has been very exciting for me and this has also meant that I’ve had to be very flexible in my responsibilities and I’ve had to hit the ground running in a lot of areas. Through this position I’ve had a hand in communications, project management, events planning, bug testing of all things, administration, filming and even copyright law.

Some of my favourite moments through this role have been when everyone comes together as a team to accomplish a task, especially when this pertains to events that have been planned for months come together on the day.

My favourite of the events we’ve planned and run this year was the Learning Spaces Walk part of the Learning Reimagined stream. A tour across the University Campus’s Learning Spaces conducted by Prof Sue Prince and the Head of Space and Design Helen Wallace to discuss how built pedagogy affects learning.

The tour was a fascinating dive into how students and staff interact with the built pedagogy around them and how that has changed over the last few years, a subject that isn’t discussed nearly enough in University I feel and it fed into a wider discussion of the place that lecturers and lecture theatres have within Higher Education now.

Another incubator project I’m quite excited to see where it will go next is the InVEnTA project, an interactive virtual environment creation toolkit for lecturers so they can quickly and simply create large interactive 3D landscapes by utilising Geospatial data gathered via GIS. I’ve had a hand at bug testing InVEnTA as well as helping the InVEnTA team conduct a workshop in the new Digital Humanities Seminar room where we and number of guests got hands on experience with the toolkit on a large 4K screen.

What I’ve enjoyed the most about working at the Education Incubator however has been the opportunity to work alongside academics and professional services staff to see the work and research that goes into the field of pedagogy and seeing first-hand how this work goes on to mould the teaching at the University of Exeter.

Overall it’s been a very positive and educational nine months for me and I’m very excited to take everything I’ve learned while I’ve been in this vocation to my next role.

Education, Higher Education, Incubator, Project, Uncategorized

InVEnTA discussions at the International Glaciology British Branch Meeting



The InVEnTA project uses advances in geospatial and visualisation technology to develop free-roaming interactive virtual environments. The project is run by SteveAnne, and myself who are all Geographers with expertise in spatial data and Glaciology. Before the start of term we hosted the International Glaciology Society British Branch meeting and so as part of the programme included a poster about the InVEnTA tool. The poster is shown below and this blog is a summary of potential collaborations and initial reactions of the project:

 Many of the talks (see the programme and abstract map) that were researching ice margins required high resolution elevation models. There were various techniques explained on how these were created including Tom Chudley’s UAV work and Joe Mallalieau using automated time lapse arrays. Both of these outputs could import into the InVEnTA tool and their research could be showcased in an immersive environment.

Probably the most novel of datasets that we discussed for collaboration was Rob Bingham’s Pine Island Glacier bed elevation datasets. Rob’s response to my inquiry was,

“this would be great! How do we start?”

Discussion in the poster session and throughout the conference was very positive and has provided motivation for the next steps of the project. The consensus was that research projects in Geography which create high resolution topographic data-sets lend themselves for use in InVEnTA. There was particular enthusiasm of its use to increase research impact and engagement. The InVEnTA team are now working on developing the tool  to be able to ingest models of varying data types to increase uptake and ease of compatibility further. Over the summer we have identified a way of exporting elevation models for anywhere on the earth using Esri’s City Engine tool. We have a clear way of creating immersive environments in Physical Geography. We need to widen our collaborations to include colleagues who are interested in using the tool in other disciplines. Many taught concepts relate to phenomena or ideas that occur at spatial and temporal scales that present a challenge for visualisation – from the inner workings of human body cells (or DNA, or anatomy) to the dynamics of colliding galaxies, and from timescales of subatomic particle interactions to multiple ice-age cycles. If you would like to know more or want to explore how you may collaborate with the team then get in touch on twitter @UoE_Inventa or send me an email D.T.Mansell@exeter.ac.uk




e-resources for new ways of teaching and assessing in the laboratory – project blog

Written by Dr Nicky King

Our project kicked off in earnest at the start of August as the race was on to get materials ready for the start of term next week for the new 1st year Natural Sciences and Biosciences students. We’re working with Learning Science https://www.learnsci.co.uk/ to build bespoke Smart Worksheets for assessing practicals. Learning Science have done a great job taking our existing practicals and assessments and turning them into online assessments which not only streamline marking but also provide greatly enhanced feedback to our students. For me however it’s been a fantastic opportunity to think about what we assess, how we assess it, and why we do it in a certain way. So often the answer is ‘because that’s how we’ve always done it’ but this has been a real incentive to think again about learning outcomes and what exactly it is that we want students to take away from a lab class. Just because we’ve always assessed in a certain way is not a good reason to keep doing it.

What do I want my students to get out of their laboratory classes? An enhanced understanding of the science, inquiry and research skills, numerical and data analysis skills, but also, significantly enthusiasm for experimentation and a love of practical science. Getting the students to write a traditional, fairly prescriptive, formal lab report is an important skill for them to develop but do we have to do this every time?


For one of my chemistry experiments, investigating the oxidation states of Vanadium, I’ve now dropped the formal lab report and developed a Smart Worksheet which the students can complete in the lab, in real time, as they do the experiment. Performing calculations and checking their data quality as they go, consolidating their understanding of the underpinning science, and getting immediate feedback online in an environment where they can also speak to me if there are still things they are unclear about. Surely this is better than sitting down 10 days later to write a lab report when they’ve already forgotten some of the finer details because their lab book records aren’t perfect, and then getting feedback another 3 weeks later when their minds have long since moved on to other things. I’m looking forward to hearing what the students think.


Josh reflects on his time as a Project Officer in the Exeter Education Incubator

My time at the incubator has been my first “real job” since finishing University last year. I’ve interJoshRedmondOfficerned, temped, and worked part time – but my first real foray into the bonafide adult full time working world has been here at the incubator.

Whilst I’d spent three years in the academic environment, I had never seen behind the scenes, and none of the offices I’d worked in before had anything to do with education – so I wasn’t sure what working here was going to be like.

It’s been an interesting nine months, we’ve all had to wear lots of hats, and throw ourselves in at the deep end many a time to support our academics in carrying out their projects. The different roles and responsibilities we have all had to take on have been challenging, but at the same time a fantastic learning opportunity for myself and my fellow interns – all of whom were more or less in the same boat.

Amongst the new experiences and responsibilities I’ve had have been video production, qualitative survey design, project management, and graphic design. It’s not just what I was doing which has been varied, but also the projects I’ve been working on. This has been even more true as members of staff have left the incubator, two of my fellow project officers left us mid year, and another has left recently leaving just two of us to take on a variety of different projects and tasks. This wide distribution of tasks meant that each of us have had different experiences on the same projects, and we’ve needed to hand over tasks to one another regularly to share the workload.

The big challenge here has been ensuring that enough of the accrued informal knowledge each member of staff builds up over time is shared and communicated along with the tasks themselves. You have a lot of knowledge about the job in your head that you might not even have ready access to – until something jogs your memory or reminds you – let alone your colleagues. Whilst you can do your best to mitigate the risks, by writing down processes and knowledge, keeping notes in a shared accessible place, and regularly updating everyone else on the progress you’re making at meetings; it is challenging in the extreme to share a half remembered memory of a conversation you had three weeks ago which you suddenly realise is critical to the project. Ultimately, it’s about recording everything important with as much detail as possible, and storing everything somewhere in a way that makes sense even without contextual knowledge. Things will still slip through the cracks, especially when everyone on the team is working across many different projects and roles, but with any luck the net will be fine enough to catch anything important.

As I’m about to move on to my next role, I hope to be able to use all the knowledge and skills I have built up over the last nine months, both the concrete skills I need to do my job, and the softer skills and experience I’ve gained in how to work in a large organisation, and be an effective member of a wider team.

Josh Redmond – Project Officer – Exeter Education Incubator 


Projects supported by Curriculum 2021 investment

As part of the University’s Curriculum 2021 investment, which is a major undertaking to reimagine the digital education we provide to all Exeter students, the Education Incubator is supporting six projects each exploring ways to exploit the affordances of digital technologies in order to enhance the student experience here at the University of Exeter. This week’s blog post will introduce these projects to you.

Joseph Francis – Utilising Gamification to Enhance Engagement and Learning within Medical Education

GamificationGamification of learning is rapidly becoming established as an innovative way to increase student engagement and satisfaction, whilst promoting deeper learning. Within the University of Exeter Medical School, there is an identified need for the enhancement of innovative digital learning tools in accordance with aim 5 of the Education Strategy. Here, current efforts mostly focus on the development interactive Google Sites. This project aims to take key areas within the curriculum, such as life sciences and clinical skills, and develop a gamified learning resource, or pool of resources, to utilise alongside the current teaching.

Katherine Natanel, Kerry Chappell – Digital Innovation in Project-Based Learning

This project explores how ‘project-based learning’ (PBL) can be enhanced through digital technologies and creative pedagogies in HE classrooms, which work through face-to-face interaction and virtual learning environments (VLEs). PBL engages students in solving real-world problems, and provides a deeper, more contextualised learning experience that results in active engagement and higher attainment, but little is known about its creative integration with technology.

Our primary aim is therefore to understand and share how digital technologies can be creatively integrated into project-based learning in a way that compliments, and ideally enhances, their capacity for deep, creative knowledge production. We will build on Natanel’s ongoing use of PBL on her course ‘Gender, Sexuality and Violence in Palestine/Israel’, combining it with Chappell’s educational research into creativity and creative pedagogy, and both academics’ experience to date of working with digital environments. As part of Curriculum 2021, we aim to assess how combined VLEs and face-to-face interaction can best support creative project-based learning in the interest of maximising impact and enriching ethical communities of practice.

Nicky King – E-resources for new ways of teaching and assessing in the laboratory

Laboratory based learning is a core part of all the Natural Sciences and Biological Sciences programmes, with first year students typically spending 6 hours per week in the laboratory. Good preparation for laboratory work and excellent and timely feedback are key to effective learning in this environment. Students starting these courses come from a variety of educational backgrounds and many have not had the opportunity for much lab based learning, nor been exposed to an environment like our teaching labs.

Smart Worksheets are a flexible tool developed by Learning Science to offer bespoke post-lab feedback to students using their own data and their own analysis. This project will develop new worksheets for our lab classes and integrate existing Learning Science resources into Bioscience and Natural Sciences practicals, improving preparedness for lab work, improving feedback and streamlining marking time. The project hopes also to transform the way students interact with the VLE, from often being a passive medium to one which is more interactive where students learn through experience, practice and instant feedback.

These resources provide a step towards mobile learning, virtual degrees, improving access to lab learning for WP groups and offer novel pedagogic approaches, in particular for better, faster and more streamlined assessment and feedback.

Richard Ward, Helen Birkett, Sarah Jones – Humanities in a Digital World: Integrating Digital Skills Training and the Digital Humanities into Undergraduate Teaching.

This project will assess what digital skills training would be most valuable for UG students and how we can provide them in an effective and sustainable way, particularly through the use of Virtual Learning Environments. This initiative is led by staff from History, but it is intended to produce a College-wide solution. In doing so, the project will contribute towards Aims 2 and 3 of the Education Strategy and place Exeter at the forefront of Digital Humanities teaching in the UK.

Layal Hakim – CSD-Continuing Student Development

maths cafe

The principal aim of this project is to personalise student support in mathematics using on-going online assessments and launching the Maths Café. Many students not only have difficulties with keeping on track with the content of the modules, but also with their own development. This leads to a lack of understanding what they understand and what they need help with. Due to the synoptic nature of mathematics, the topics taught at undergraduate level depend highly on prior knowledge and almost every undergraduate module requires a firm understanding of one or more other modules. Regular computer-based formative assessments will accelerate students’ progress by keeping them on track with the material being taught, and will allow us to identify students’ skills, strengths, and weaknesses. We will address the students’ struggles and weaknesses by offering on-going support in the form of one-to-one help. The Maths Café will provide free exam preparation drop-in sessions and will run during the main revision periods. The effectiveness of these online assessments, and the maths café, will be studied using statistical analysis. This project will improve student support while meeting the students’ demand and need for new technologies.

Cris Burgess, Hazel Mycroft – Academic skills development and authentic assessment

Over 80% of Psychology graduates pursue careers not currently recognised as professional Psychology pathways (QAA, 2015), competing with graduates from other disciplines. Psychology programmes provide opportunities to develop a vast array of graduate attributes that make our students competitive, but our students find these attributes hard to define and distinguish from those of other disciplines. ‘Authentic assessments’ require students, “to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered.” (Stiggins, 1987, p.34) and provide opportunities to self-assess valued attributes, offering concrete examples for future employers. However, students are risk-averse in their appreciation of assessment types not already encountered in their educational experience and the introduction of such assessments impacts negatively on student satisfaction and psychological wellbeing. Providing additional support does little to improve satisfaction, instead increasing expectations surrounding support for all forms of academic endeavour. The development of academic skills is a priority across our programmes and a new core skills curriculum will be introduced in 2018/19. We wish to track its impact on our students’ academic skills development, and their confidence in completing a variety of assessment types.