We sat down with our very first visiting fellow Simon Thomson to find out more about him and his background, as well as examining what changes we're likely to see in learning as a result of coronavirus.

Simon Thomson Co-operative College Fellow

  1. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and your day to day role.

I started my teaching career in Further Education (FE) – teaching media production. It was a fantastic way to learn my “craft” because teaching in a FE setting requires you to be innovative and engaging as a teacher. Motivation of some students can be really low and they often had complex personal lives, so when they were in college I wanted to make sure they felt it was a place where we could learn together and not a place where they would be talked at all day.

  1. How did this influence your move into Higher Education?

This really helped me for when I moved into Higher Education (HE) as an academic teaching broadcast engineering in (2001). I used some of the innovative teaching methods I had developed in FE with my HE students (such as podcasts instead of lectures) and these went down really well.

Eventually I began to move into academic development – with a focus on digital pedagogy and enhancing learning and teaching through technology use. Currently I'm Director of the Centre for Innovation in Education at the University of Liverpool. This is a central service dedicated to supporting innovation in learning, teaching and assessment through enhanced curriculum development anddigital education. 

  1. The current coronavirus crisis is forcing us to come up with innovative ways to teach and learn together. What changes do you think we'll see in learning once the crisis is over and what do you hope we will have learned?

Many colleagues have had to suddenly move to remote teaching and the focus has very much been on how we can move to a fully online/remote experience, but what will be most important is the evaluation that we do after this crisis has passed. One thing I hope it does do is to make us stop and think about which face-to-face interactions are really the most valuable to us as we move back to our on-campus teaching and learning. I have seen so much excellent practice emerge through experimentation and innovation using the range of technologies on offer and so once we have returned to some level of “normal” it would be really nice to think that we will be in an ideal position to maximise the benefits of both face-to-face and remote teaching to develop rich hybrid experiences.

  1. What excites you about co-operative learning?

I have always naturally involved students in my teaching (and design of teaching). Ultimately this co-operative approach means that we all feel a sense of belonging and for me this is what really excites me about co-operative learning. I never really wanted to fit the mould of a traditional teacher, I always saw myself as a facilitator of the students’ own learning. Whilst I recognise that ultimately I was responsible for the design of the teaching and the “content” wherever possible I tried to build a strong sense of student self-efficacy by helping them explore and experiment. Co-operative learning creates a safe space where things might not always go to plan, but where ultimately we support each other to succeed.

  1. What role do you think co-operative learning methods (particularly co-production) will have to play in the future of learning?

I think that within the current climate of the “marketisation” of higher education in the UK it is now more important than ever to ensure that co-operative learning sits at the heart of our learning and teaching experiences.

I always like to use the “gym” analogy in that active participation in the process is what achieves the results. Co-production and co-design of the learning activities and processes gives an important focus on being an active participant and not just an impassive recipient within the learning process. Having students actively engage in the curriculum design process can be challenging but immensely rewarding.

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