Treasure Island Pedagogies: Episode 6 - the one with the hot air balloon

Posted on: 12 April 2021 by Dr Tunde Varga-Atkins in General

Host and Guests in Online Meeting
(Host and Guests in Online Meeting)

In Episode 6, rule breaking, disruption and connectedness were shared themes between our guests and their Treasure Island Pedagogies. Our guests also challenged us to look beyond the bright side of pedagogies into their ‘shadowy siblings’.

Speakers: Prof Nicola Whitton, Rikke Toft Nørgård, Simon Thomson and William Carey

Date: 29 March 2021

This is a special edition of Treasure Island Pedagogies with educational developers. In homage to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’, our guests identify their students’ lightbulb moment (when their students ‘were getting it’), a teaching prop or pedagogy to take to their Treasure Islands together with a luxury item off duty.

Treasure Island Pedagogies: Episode 6 podcast

(Treasure Island Pedagogies Episode 6 - Podcast Transcript)

Prof Nicola Whitton

Durham University, UK


  • Lightbulb moment: doctoral students start by wanting to write to perfection. I get students to write quickly and then critique these pieces on and on. When they query it, I show them where they started and where they are after six months.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: I love balloons. It will be practical for carrying water and bamboozling lions, but also pedagogically. I get staff to figure out ways to use balloons in their teaching, or put challenges into the balloon for students to pop and solve or pass on. It gives choice, it’s physical, tactile – great for learning.
  • Luxury item: scuba diving kit to be able to get away from it all, to think. Bit hard to achieve if we relocated the island in the air- but maybe we could make it work!

Rikke Toft Nørgård

Aarhus University, Denmark

  • Lightbulb moment: creating open, open processes and scaffolding it along the way are really important. Designing them together with students and integrating them with something students really care about, turning it into a research journey.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: I am in love with the concept of signature pedagogies by Shulman (2005). Shulman distinguishes three things in pedagogies: the hands (what we do), heads (how we think) and hearts (how it makes us feel). If the balloons mentioned by Nic are the surface layer of teaching (the what-ness of education), then it’s really important to query into the deeper pedagogical values of why might do the balloon activity (the why-ness of education) and how we can use balloons in a pedagogically meaningful way (the how-ness of education).
  • Luxury item: 3 items! I would love to bring a boardgame for when we sit around the campfire. I love to boardgames where people play together against the ‘system’, like in the Pandemic boardgame. I would also love some time to read, think and feel just for myself, so would bring a philosophy and a poetry book.

Simon Thomson

University of Liverpool, UK


  • Lightbulb moment: it’s actually a switch off moment: stopping lecturing and getting students to engage in conversations. Back in 2006, I had noticed that students would hardly turn up to lectures by Week 6. I started producing short 15-20 min podcasts and wrapped it around a conversation in the VLE. We have a lot to unpick when students arrive at university. I am always interested in how we use technology to engage learners in conversations rather than to have them just listen and regurgitate what we say.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: the internet! This non-geographical network is one of the most powerful things if we combine it with active learning. You can learn anything from YouTube now and it also questions what my role as an educator is. I would also make us a camp fire. Fire with conversation seems to have been around forever as a way to connect and learn together.
  • Luxury item: my bike! It helped me during lockdown to get out and about. Cycling with others also gives you a sense of community and connectedness.

William Carey

Munster Technological University, Ireland


  • Lightbulb moment: creating a space for encouraging dialogue with learners AND educators that challenges the perception of myself in whatever role I might have. It challenges and disrupts the ‘normal’ power dynamics. You see sparks when this happens both in students and staff!
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: post-it notes. Helps student to find their individual voice and we can collectively bring out something that is more than the sum of its parts. And because it is anonymous even the apprehensive students can do so.
  • Luxury item: 1) something to do with music, I miss playing my saxophone together with others to help me step into another space, 2) the Bible: my faith and come together with others in a different space 3) would love to be cooking on the campfire that Simon has brought.

Any sparks? Bartering?

We learnt some new expressions such as Bildung or the Gaelic/Irish ‘anseo’, which with ‘an’ being ‘The’ and ‘SEO’ being ‘Student Engagement Office’ describes William’s place of work which cleverly, ANSEO also means being ‘present’ or ‘here’ when there is a roll call in class: emotionally, mentally here in this space. We shared ideas about lightbulb moments being about challenge, conversation and space, as well as the need to create ‘safe failure’ or ‘brave spaces’ when students can learn through failure in a safe and comfortable space. We called for more vocabulary on these brave spaces. We opened the Wunderkammer, the cabinet of curiosities, which serve as lightbulb moments, but which also need scaffolding for student learning; and which is hardly ever a simple linear process. We created our Treasure Island as a hot air balloon. Rule breaking, disruption and connectedness were definitely shared themes between our guests and their Treasure Island Pedagogies. Rikke challenged us by asking us to look beyond the bright side of pedagogies and teaching props, to uncover their ‘shadowy siblings’: “balloons or post it notes can also be evil”. This is a useful call for us to critique our own ‘bright and good’ pedagogies, by laying down a backwards trajectory to analyse them in order to connect back to our values as learners and educators. For more detail, please listen to the full recording!

Links / resources

Facilitated by Tünde Varga-Atkins, Audio/Producer by Chris Loxham, Web design: Dennis Wong, @LivUniCIE