Catalysing learning?

Will this be the title of my next book, now that the Toolkit (see posts a few below) is completed? Or will it be a discussion on the web?

Catalysts tend to be expensive, and precious. That’s why catalytic converters often get nicked from cars. One definition of a catalyst is along the lines of ‘something that accelerates a process, remaining more or less unchanged by the process’. Straightaway, however, this doesn’t quite apply to learning, as everyone who is intimately involved in making learning happen does not remain unchanged (hopefully). But whatever we do to help learning to take place, we could regard ourselves as catalysts to the process – making it faster (that’s kinetics), more complete (that’s about the position of equilibrium), less arduous (possibly by reducing the activation energy needed to get the learning under way), more fun, the extensions to the metaphor are endless.

The main thing in my mind at the moment is that not just teachers, but everyone who helps learning to happen can think of themselves as catalysts to the process. And like catalysts, our role is intimately involved in the process, not just as bystanders or observers. We can even hope to help initiate a chain reaction, where after we’re not needed in the process, and learners carry on under their own steam. Also, like catalysts, we can play our part over and over again with different learners. Also like catalysts, we can succumb to being ‘poisoned’ and having our effectiveness and efficiency impaired.

It’s not just kinetics of course – nothing is. Thermodynamics are necessarily involved. We can think of learners’ motivation states involving wanting to learn and needing to learn, for example. We can play our part in increasing both of these motivation states, as well as causing pathways whereby the motivation can be harnessed by learners and result in successful learning (and confidence and self-esteem).

Now this is just a start in my thinking linking catalysis, kinetics and thermodynamics to helping learning to be successful. I’m hoping lots of readers might wish to chip in with all sorts of related ideas, and that’s why I’ve posted this today and tweeted a link. Please do email me at with thought and reactions, or tweet to @RacePhil.

In at the deep end: video and booklet

Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh have produced a short video of me giving some reassuring and practical advice for those new (or old!) to teaching in higher education, accompanying their new production of ‘In at the deep end’ which you can download as a booklet from their website. 
Also downloadable from their site are some leaflets in a series called ‘Watt Works’, about various aspects of learning, assessment, feedback and related things, mostly written by Sally Brown, Kay Sambell and me. Thanks to Martha Caddell of Heriot Watt, for organising the creation, production  and circulation of these open-access resources.

Just in: link to the ‘Box Set’ of videos of Sally and I at Heriot Watt:

More to come! Do give us feedback on these please.
Enjoy – and Happy Christmas all.

Guest appearance at Southampton Solent University

This week, Sally is working at Southampton Solent for 3 days, and I was allowed a guest input to her workshop on Assessment and Feedback. After that, Paul Maple led and recorded some short video interviews with each of us, and took this photo of us with Karen Arm of Southampton Solent.
Entering into the festive spirit, afterwards Sally  took a photo of me posing at Santa in the joyous Christmas market at Southampton.

14th-15th November: at SEDA Conference in Leeds

Great conference, see Tweets at #sedaconf. Particularly enjoyed Mark Glynn’s keynote, David Killick’s workshop, and Michelle Morgan’s keynote. The slides for my workshop on 14th November are here: SEDA-ws-2019-w.pptx (973 downloads) . Great emergent outcomes post-its, downloadable from this link: Emergent-learning-outcomes-from-workshop-w.docx (683 downloads)
Here are my keynote slides from 15th November, SEDA-keynote-2019-w.pptx (900 downloads) with a couple of pictures added. Your postcard replies to ‘one thing I’m going to do, as a direct result of being at this conference…’ are transcribed below as a download: SEDA-keynote-postcard-data-w.docx (646 downloads)
What an exciting list.





5th edition of ‘The Lecturer’s Toolkit’ out now!

Happy October to you.
I’m pleased to say that the 5th edition of the Toolkit is now available – well done everyone at Routledge who have helped get this done ahead of schedule.
They’ve also done a flyer for the book, with 20% discount for anyone ordering a copy online, using the code at the bottom of page 1 of the flyer, which you can download here: The-Lecturers-Toolkit-Flyer-1.pdf (1548 downloads)

I’m enjoying my retirement now – but am still popping up occasionally for ‘specials’, for example at Plymouth College of Art (related resources are here: plymouth-college-of-art-w.pptx (650 downloads) UKPSF-grid-latest-March-2019.docx (481 downloads) UKPSF-recognition-slides-w5-July-2019-1.pptx (367 downloads) and Heriot Watt University this month Heriot-Watt-Keynote-on-bringing-your-teaching-to-life-f.pptx (628 downloads) , and at the SEDA Conference in Leeds next month, and on the #LTHEchat tweetchat on some Wednesday nights at 800-9.00 pm.

Sheffield Hallam University: Faculty of Health and Well-being: 10th July 2019

It was great working with such an enthusiastic large group this morning. Thanks for all the Tweets, and for diving into all the exercises and challenges I set you. The main slides from my ‘Towards Outstanding Learning’ session are here – I’ve added a few slides on ‘towards assessment as learning’ including a slide with a link to Royce Sadler’s MOOC interview, where he talks convincingly about letting students find out about standards.  SHU-July-2019-ww.pptx (848 downloads)

Here too are the slides I used for my session with 6 of you on learning outcomes: SHU-ws-2019-1.pptx (407 downloads)   You may like to look at the post below this one, for the workshop products which a large group of staff made at Leeds Beckett.

Leeds Beckett University: 27th June

Here are the main slides which I used yesterday. DEAP-2019-w.pptx (633 downloads)
Thanks for being such an enthusiastic group. I have now transcribed the post-its – what an interesting and mixed example of the ‘learning incomes’ you brought to the workshop – thanks. . prod1.docx (432 downloads)
Sorry, but I forgot to give out the handout material I had prepared for you, but if you signed in I am assured they will pop a copy in the internal mail to you before long.
I’ve also added Robert Nelson’s piece that I mentioned. Robert-Nelson-THE-learning-outcomes-piece.docx (670 downloads)

Off everywhere, it seems!

I’ve been added to the very distinguished group of people holding the LTHEchat ‘Golden Tweeter’ award, along with @ProfSallyBrown! I’m accompanying her for 10 days in Manchester, (day 1 of the Assessment in Higher Education Conference), Leeds, Segovia (Spain) and York, and doing the odd  bit of work in my retirement, including ‘Beyond the Tyranny of Learning Outcomes?’ on Thursday 27th June at Leeds Beckett University, where Professor Sue Smith will be giving her inaugural professorial lecture.
Full details of our trip can be seen at