Celebrating learning gain and teaching excellence through social media and digital narratives

I facilitated a workshop at the SEDA Spring Teaching Learning and Assessment Conference in Manchester on celebrating learning gain and teaching excellence through social media and digital narratives. The theme for the event was The quest for teaching excellence and learning gain: issues, resolutions and possibilities. One of the key issues was not only defining what is meant by the terms teaching excellence and learning gain, but grappling with how the impact could be evidenced and measured.

The context for the theme of my workshop and the conference is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). In short the Government is introducing the TEF and aims to recognise and reward excellent learning and teaching.

The workshop I gave intended to get participants thinking about how we can use digital narratives and social media to capture and celebrate:

  • good teaching — through sharing openly what has worked well and why
  • student learning achievements — along the learning journey

The Teaching Excellence Framework

The beginning of the presentation (see below the embedded Slideshare presentation) provides definitions of what teaching excellence and learning gain are and also some information about some of the other components. HEFCE provide the following definitions:

“Learning gain can be defined and understood in a number of ways. But broadly it is an attempt to measure the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education.”

“Teaching excellence is defined broadly to include teaching quality, the learning environment, and student outcomes and learning gain.”

HEFCE — The Higher Education Funding Council for England

The three components of teaching excellence are:

Teaching Quality
 Includes different forms of structured learning that can involve teachers and academic or specialist support staff. This includes seminars, tutorials, project supervision, laboratory sessions, studio time, placements, supervised on-line learning, workshops, fieldwork and site visits. The emphasis is on teaching that provides an appropriate level of contact, stimulation and challenge, and which encourages student engagement and effort. The effectiveness of course design, and assessment and feedback, in developing students’ knowledge, skills and understanding are also considered. The extent to which a provider recognises, encourages and rewards excellent teaching is also included within this aspect.

Learning Environment
 Includes the effectiveness of resources such as libraries, laboratories and design studios, work experience, opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction and extra-curricular activities in supporting students’ learning and the development of independent study and research skills. The emphasis is on a personalised academic experience which maximises retention, progression and attainment. The extent to which beneficial linkages are made for students between teaching and learning, and scholarship, research or professional practice (one or more of these) is also considered.

Student Outcomes and Learning Gain Focused on the achievement of positive outcomes:

• acquisition of attributes such as lifelong learning skills and others that allow a graduate to make a strong contribution to society, economy and the environment.

• progression to further study, acquisition of knowledge, skills and attributes necessary to compete for a graduate level job that requires the high level of skills arising from higher education.

Open learning through storytelling

In 2010 David Wiley spoke at TEDxNY about openness and said “If there is no sharing, there is no education.” Building a culture of sharing can help teachers develop a worldwide learning community for themselves and their students. Learners who share what they have gained through learning, can inspire others and also provide rich content for their personal development portfolios.

Whilst there is a growing community of educators and students sharing good practice and achievements, it is rarely labelled as ‘teaching excellence’ or learning gain’. I provide some examples of how learning and teaching is shared by students and academic peers by using social media and digital technology within the SlideShare below. What is evident, is that the way this is done by both teachers and learners, is very often a series of bite sized stories. This could be a few minute video or screencast, a short blog post, a Tweetchat, a SlideShare presentation embedded in a LinkedIn profile, or a Twitter or Facebook update. Social media channels are useful spaces to share these digital narratives easily and to a wide and relevant audience.

Using ‘garden’ as an analogy for learning, the presentation considers how this might be portrayed and shared visually to tell a story.

The formal garden

To tend a formal garden takes a team of gardeners, huge amounts of time and money. When sharing information, there is a tendency to wait until there’s a team in place who can devote time to produce a scripted video or written piece, which often then has to wait for edits and changes before it can be published publicly. Granted the outcomes are polished and professional but taking this approach can only capture a tiny segment of what is going on. What is being missed?

The production garden

Each year universities all over the world celebrate the graduation of students, capturing the long ceremonies on video as the students cross the stage. However it doesn’t capture the personal stories of the individual students and what they have achieved during their learning journey.

Diversity of gardens

Universities are full of a rich diversity of students and teachers who all bring something different to the learning and teaching experience. Different courses will have a variety of teaching approaches but there is much to be learned from other disciplines, and this can lead to cross-disciplinary approaches.

The cooperative garden

We need to look, listen more deeply, and learn not to make judgements too quickly. The common dandelion is often seen as a garden pest and yet this feeds the bees who pollinate the fruit trees and flowers. Taking time to learn about different and innovative approaches can be enlightening, even if they do at first seem wild!

Growth and transformation

Sharing the stories of learning journeys can help others see how an individual can grow and transform. In the initial stages growth is often not evident, and yet looking back it is possible to see the huge steps made and the hurdles that have been overcome. Reflective practice can provide learning opportunities when shared openly.


We need to move on from only celebrating and sharing the ‘polished’ versions of teaching excellence and learning gain. Encouraging both teachers and students to share their teaching and learning stories as digital narratives, and sharing these through social media can provide so many others an opportunity to learn from their achievements. Furthermore liking and commenting upon the stories of students and teachers not only acknowledges they have been read but can lead to mutually valuable cooperative and social learning. This in itself has the potential to result in shared learning gain for all.

Further reading

David Wiley TEDxNYED 2010 https://youtu.be/Rb0syrgsH6M

Higher Education Funding Council for England http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/tef/

Teaching Excellence Framework: year two specification (2016:8) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teaching-excellence-framework-year-2-specification

Originally published at socialmediaforlearning.com on May 19, 2017.