Treasure Island Pedagogies: Episode 9 - the one with the tree house

Posted on: 24 June 2021 by Dr Tunde Varga-Atkins in General

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

In Episode 9, ungrading, threshold concepts, the Balloon Academy - lots of pedagogies and lightbulb moments resonated in today’s discussion. A common theme was linking learning to anything to do with moving and making.

Speakers: Dr Alice Kim, Dr Ingeborg van Knippenberg, Dr Nathalie Tasler and Dr Virna Rossi

Date: 21 June 2021 

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 9 podcast

(Treasure Island Pedagogies Episode 9 - Podcast Transcript)

This episode features:

Dr Alice Kim

Teaching & Learning Research In Action, Canada


  • Lightbulb moment: when I get my undergraduate psychology students to engage with critical reflection, I get push-back from many students: ‘why are we doing this?’ But I say to students, please trust the process and by the end of the semester when I read their reflective journals, I can see that it all comes together and makes sense to them. When I receive emails from students, “thank you for making me learning how to think”, it’s like a gold medal for me! 
  • Teaching prop or pedagogymy classic think-pair-share. I teach large classes, about 200 students. In large lecture halls, they have a minute to write down how they would respond to a question. After this, I get them to discuss the question with their closest peer and then we have a big class discussion. I would walk up the stairs to the back of the class to hear and engage everybody. I love this activity as I find that students feel safer to share their ideas with one person rather than with another 199 students. Once they have done that, they feel more confident to share it with the whole lecture hall – me walking around engages everybody and it creates a sense of community. [Natalie suggested that Alice would probably love trying out throwing a soft microphone in a ball to make this happen.]
  • Luxury item: can I bring my young children? They are super cute and entertaining. I can’t imagine going to the island without them. 

Dr Ingeborg van Knippenberg

Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland


  • Lightbulb moment: Convincing academics to get students to interact with the material and learn from each other. I worked with an engineering lecturer who was puzzled why students did not ask questions after his (very good) explanations. I suggested: why not let students interact with the material and each other before asking their questions? Lo and behold, the lecturer tried this in class and found it was amazing! Students came up with lots of questions and they did much better in the exam. I love seeing the pennies drop in similar situations for PgCert participants.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: it’s probably already there on our pristine island, but for me an essential pedagogy would be Ungrading. I want us to be there for the learning. I count myself as a learner. Learning should never be a competition.
  • Luxury item: I am going to ask for a set of recorders and unlimited supplies of sheet music, so that I can relax by playing away whilst on the island.

Dr Nathalie Tasler

University of Glasgow, Scotland


  • Lightbulb moment: picture me air-punching when I mark assignments with comments such as ‘This course made me confident’ or ‘this has produced a complete paradigm shift for me’ by our staff on the PgCert in Learning and Teaching programme. It is such a privilege to help people develop their teaching voice and take ownership of their teaching process.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: I love creative learning and teaching methods. In learning development, I worked with students and tried to get them to understand the complexity of marking. I got them to do a ‘Balloon Academy’: in groups students had to decorate a balloon, meeting 3 criteria: to have eyes, nose plus a free-form criterion. The next group had to then decide whether the balloon passed the criteria or not. Students got creative. For instance, there was a balloon with the eye patch. The resulting discussions demonstrated the difficulty of grading assessments and created all sorts of conversations about equality and diversity.
  • Luxury item: I am taking my grab-bag to help me stay creative, in addition to my steel-flint and Leatherman, it will have a journal, pencil, travel water-colours to help me make stuff, write poetry, and paint.

Dr Virna Rossi

Ravensbourne University London


  • Lightbulb moment: I never forget this one teacher who after a workshop on identifying threshold concepts said, “It’s the first time in 10 years of teaching that I understand my own discipline!” I use threshold concepts in my own teaching, for instance on helping staff with learning design.
  • Teaching prop or pedagogy: in arts and design students do project-based work based on a project brief. This assessment brief is a really important document, so how do I get students to understand it? – via a using stations activity. On PgCert, I (pre-Covid) print the brief on large A3 sheets divide into 3 sets and stick on the walls of the room, divide the group into 3 and get them to discuss the brief by putting questions and comments on the sheets – then rotate the groups. If done on Day 1, this is also a great team-building activity. The volume of post-its will tell you where the ambiguities are. It creates a buzz in the room as well as giving feedback to me as the facilitator. I can also do this digitally e.g. via a Jamboard.
  • Luxury item: I would like to take my balcony. Mine in Italy faces the mountains and it’s absolutely beautiful. I like it because downstairs you are under the olive groves, but when you come out onto the balcony you are above the olive trees. It gives you a different perspective. 

Any sparks? Bartering?

Ungrading, threshold concepts, the Balloon Academy – lots of pedagogies and lightbulb moments resonated in today’s discussion. A common theme was linking learning to anything to do with moving and making. No matter what we teach we can be physically active. We are human beings; not meant to be sitting still. Learning is also about putting heads together to come up with and share creative ideas collectively. We agreed that instead of bartering we would like to collaborate such as coming together to build a tree house to enjoy on our Treasure Island.

Links / resources

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