Extended Induction Workshops: Reflections of a Student Researcher

“Staff in Education value diversity, excellence and education. We aspire to national and international recognition as a centre of excellence in research, teaching and engagement, and we believe that these facets of our work are interdependent”.

ECLS Education in 2020: Developing an inclusive sense of diversity

Inclusion of students and staff from different backgrounds can be, and is, a synonym of quality in education. During the 2016-17 academic year, I have been involved in a Newcastle University Learning Teaching and Student Experience funded project, whose purpose was to promote internationalization, diversity and academic excellence through an extended induction programme focussing on expectations, inclusion, assessment and academic writing.

Dr Anna Reid and Newcastle Work Experience arranged my involvement in the project as a student researcher. To this end, I worked with Dr Reid to co-ordinate the data collection, analysis and findings from four different workshops, and prepare a poster for the Newcastle University Learning and Teaching conference in March 2017. Extended induction workshops were designed and delivered to students on the MA (Education) International Perspectives programme from October to December 2016.

In this blog post, I will reflect upon my learning experiences and how they have contributed to the development of the graduate skills expected as part of my doctorate in Education: Newcastle University Graduate Skills Framework (2017), Degree Programme Handbook of the Doctorate in Education (2015/16), Framework for Higher Education Qualification (FHEQ) (2014).

One set of skills that can be placed together, are those related to research per se. In the development of the workshops, one of my responsibilities was to take field notes as part of the data collection process. Understanding the adequacy of the data collection instruments for this research is in line with the training I received in research methodologies modules at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences. Working as a student researcher shifted the focus from merely presenting those methodologies, to critically addressing the strengths and weaknesses of each one, providing me with an excellent set of skills for future research.

Through the analysis and synthesis of the data, I had the opportunity to investigate the different threads that ran through the development of the project, enabling a more precise view on the impact of the research. The analysis allowed me to critically review the data collected through the different instruments, leading to the production of reasoned and logical arguments, which conveyed the understanding of the topic at hand, enabling me to disseminate the research clearly. For me, the Learning and Teaching conference at Newcastle University was good opportunity to develop communication skills where research and ideas were clearly and effectively shared amongst an academic and practitioner audience.

It seems easy to point out the obvious skills gained through this project, but there were other opportunities. There are skills such as innovation and creativity, initiative, goal setting and action planning that can be acquired in many situations. Instead, in this singular project, there was one aspect I developed through the observation and implication of the project leader. Sometimes it is not about the student’s will to learn, but about the will of the educator to teach. In this case, the project leader reacted to students’ feedback and my own feedback from the notes taken in the workshops. In terms of gaining skills for a future career in the academic world, one of the most valuable lessons I have learnt is to listen. The mentoring of this project made me aware of the importance of personal skills.

In relation to my own research, I will ensure that the language used is appropriate for my audience.  This implies that the audience must be identified beforehand in order to ensure my text is fit for purpose. Secondly, I have witnessed the positive impact that comes from using quantitative data collection combined with qualitative methods, especially if the latter aims are explaining and corroborating the former. Finally, I have learned the importance of oral communication, especially when there are time restrictions and visual aids are limited. This bodes well for my viva examination!

Noelia Cacheiro Quintas is preparing her doctorate in Education (EdD) here at Newcastle. In this blog post, she discusses different aspects of her role as researcher on an ULTSEC funded project designed to extend the induction period for full-time postgraduate international students.

An experience of a lifetime: a self-reflective journey to India

Why further education?

Coming to the end of my undergraduate studies in 2015 I had an open mind about where I wanted to go. Was it into a job? Was it further studies? The truth is I didn’t know. Looking at further study I knew I had to choose a course that would challenge me because I have the habit of staying within my comfort zone.  The MA International Development and Education (IDE) course stood out to me because I wanted a course in education from an international developmental perspective and the opportunity to do placement, and see it for myself was important.

The first six months of the course was a real eye opener. IDE brings people together people from all corners of the world where opinions are different and our backgrounds, feelings and stand points have been shaped by our experiences in life. The real difference at Master’s is the level of critical thinking that’s expected from students. The criticality element takes a while to get used to, I think being critical and criticising can get mixed up and there’s a fine line in academia.


My journey to India

Having never been out of Europe, there was really never any doubt that I had to go somewhere far away. India was the perfect choice and I was lucky to be sharing it with other students on our course. Believe it or not, I’m quite the unorganised person, however when it came to planning India I think I organised as much as I could, even though it didn’t always go to plan.

On the 16th February, I set off on my journey from the Newcastle Airport terminal at 6am in the morning. Flying via Paris at -2 degrees I was looking forward to getting to nice warm New Delhi Airport. It was an interesting first journey to my hotel where my driver was literally falling asleep, I was glad to make it alive! I met Celete, Paulina and Steph from my course the next day at the airport and so my journey began. We threw ourselves in the deep end, using the Delhi metro straight away even though we were all jet lagged. We went to Old Delhi during our first weekend, a real eye opener on the sheer amount of people in India.

I started my placement at a school in Lajpat Nagar which is a public private partnership (PPP) between a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the UK and the local government in the district. A lot of time spent in university you’re learning and questioning other people’s experiences through their books or discussions and here I am seeing it for myself. For the first few days, I got used to my surroundings observing classes and talking to teachers moving on to delivering a project for the placement part of my time, part of a wider project involving a school in the UK also. One of favourite parts was the community visit where we got to see where some of the children who attended the school lived.

During my third week, we did so much in terms of visiting different school’s government and low-cost private schools (LCPS). We visited a community organisation and two LCPS in rural Mewat in Haryana, seeing a different side to what we had for most of our time in Delhi. These opportunities gave me a chance to get data for dissertation also giving me first-hand experience of collecting data in unique contexts. We met and spoke with so many different people who were very welcoming and open to helping us.

In between all of this made time to go sightseeing. Every weekend we flew to a different place, Jaipur, Varanasi and Agra however when we came back into New Delhi airport, it always felt like we were home.


A self-reflective Journey

I had expectations of India and it didn’t disappoint. I had so many different experiences in India but what was most enjoyable was going on a journey with Celete, Paulina and Steph. I don’t think it would have been as easy, or I would have done everything I did if I went alone. When the others finally left the same day I was travelling home, I had a little tear.

It took 20 hours all in to travel back to the UK and I thought a lot about the journey I had been on. From my first time on the Delhi Metro, walking up the Amer Fort in Jaipur, seeing sunrise on the Ganges, Varanasi and seeing the beautiful Taj Mahal, Agra to my time spent in schools in Delhi, Gurgaon and our trip to rural low cost private schools in Mewat. I simply have had the best experience of my life.

This time last year I had no idea I would be in India and honestly didn’t know where I wanted to go. I’m so glad I did it and would do it again in a heartbeat.

About the blogger

Darren is studying a postgraduate taught masters in International Development and Education in the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University.  You can read his blogs at www.darrenirvine.wordpress.com.

Reflections on the Internationalisation seminar with the Pontificia Catolica Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS, 4th April 2016)

led by Sue Robson and Alina Schartner and Prof Marilia Morosini and Ana Wertheimer

My undergraduate degree in Spanish with French, here at Newcastle University included an element of Latin American literature and linguistics, and more recently I have come to understand this part of the world through hobbies and friendships with Latin American anthropologists in Newcastle and cultural events organised by Vamos. I try to transmit my enthusiasm to my students in my Spanish language classes. I aim to model how deeply meaningful intercultural learning can take place without physical mobility if one takes up the opportunities available.

As a University teacher and PhD student, the work of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire has been influential on my work, particularly his emphasis on the role of critical thinking in liberating us from oppression, and the view of this as the first step towards transformative social action. Freire’s statement that there is no such thing as a value free education reminds us that the dominant approach we observe today isn’t value free, it’s just driven by values that few educators share. For Freire education is a force of either liberation, or domestication, a distinction which underpins the two discourses around Internationalisation identified today as the Global Graduate / Global Citizen. The former emphasises the need to prepare students for the global labour market, whist the second is a lot broader and sees students as activists engaged in the struggle for a more just society. The former does not involve changing the status quo: students are prepared for the existing world order; whilst the second developing awareness of the power mechanisms perpetuate inequality, with a view to transforming societies for the common good. The direction in which I would like to steer my students then is more in line with Global Citizenship.


In both Brazil and the UK, Internationalisation is caught up in other sweeping changes to Higher Education. In Brazil this seems to be as a result of radical new legislation to promote the Democratization of Higher Education, similar to UK Widening Participation initiatives, and the expansion of the Brazilian private sector. Currently England and Wales are adjusting to major changes in funding sources, and the rapid expansion of free market economics, bringing with them managerialism, corporatisation and ‘student as customer’ approach. To my mind, the public /private sector tensions evident in Brazil are played out to some degree in the UK’s division of red brick versus new universities.

The approach to Internationalisation at both CUPU and Newcastle University was described as ‘symbolic’ with reference to Bartell’s (2003) continuum adapted by Robson and Turner (2007), whilst staff were concerned to move towards ‘transformative’ Internationalisation. In both contexts Internationalisation is associated predominantly with mobility – outward for Brazil and inward for Newcastle, reflecting dominant trends of south to north flows. Going abroad is highly prized in Brazil and associated with high status, and students are selective about where they want to go. Seminar participants today stressed the need to promote Internationalisation as a holistic institution-wide process. In both institutions staff engagement is patchy and may vary across disciplines.

Significant concern was expressed for the ‘home’ student experience of Internationalisation. In the UK these students are often portrayed as passive, xenophobic and parochial, rather than as individuals with particular histories and experiences which might affect their uptake of the opportunities Internationalisation offers them. In fact, Democratization and Widening Participation bring issues of race and social class and to the fore in Higher Education today presenting a very diverse classroom mix in both countries. The profile of ‘home’ students is varied: some are part-time working students, some are mature students, some have dependents, in Brazil some are living in dangerous areas and need to be home early. These factors may influence an individual’s past attitudes to and ability to engage with Internationalisation, particularly when it is mainly associated with physical mobility. The seminar agreed that the menu of opportunities should be enhanced and on a practical note Skype contacts for language learning between students from the two institutions was arranged.


The concept of ‘culture’ is often used in the analysis of student integration issues, yet used sloppily it can be unhelpful. ‘Culture’ is too often equated with national culture, and negatively with difference, conflict, distance etc. A broader interpretation of ‘culture’ and a look at other barriers to integration might lead to greater cohesion for all students. In the UK it is often assumed that ‘home’ students are in a position of power due to English being their ‘native’ language, and for their presumed familiarity with the Higher Education system, yet the reality is more complex. ‘Home’ student- international student relations look different if viewed in terms of socio-economic status: an internationally mobile, bilingual, fee paying International elite alongside a local, non-mobile working mature student. Values led Internationalisation, linked to social justice and the reduction of prejudice, requires that intercultural be defined as broadly as possible, and all barriers to interaction should addressed.

Student integration at the micro level must also be considered in relation to the wider social context. Firstly, the competitive environment and marketization discourse in Higher Education may encourage more instrumental attitudes to learning, travelling and international engagement in general. Secondly, dominant media discourse around of migration, immigration and war, terrorism may also consciously or subconsciously affect student attitudes to cultural Others. Culturally inclusive pedagogies should equip students with the tools to deconstruct media discourse and identity politics. Seminar participants agreed that   discussing highly sensitive political issues is part of the process of the international ‘becoming’ that the group aspires to for their students, although having staff members willing and able to take on this role may be problematic.

This leads us to ask, how we can enable transformative international experiences for our students when political, economic and media discourses in the sector and beyond seem to conspire against this? How can we ensure that students engage deeply with Internationalisation and don’t simply play the game, tick the boxes, by taking a holiday abroad whilst enhancing their CV, for example? Coming back to Freire, this is a question of values, and value change: an important question for a values-led approach to Internationalisation.


Caroline Burns has a BA (Hons) in Spanish with French from Newcastle University, and a MA in Applied Linguistics (TESOL) from Northumbria University where she has worked as a Lecturer in Languages since 2002. She is currently working towards completion of a Doctorate in Education in ECLS which focuses on the ‘home’ student experience of Internationalisation of Higher Education. Her research interests include Global Citizenship, critical pedagogy and narrative inquiry.


Disruptive thinking from an international perspective on education… in the midst of a learning journey in the UAE

This blog is written by a Secondary PGCE and M.Ed in Practitioner Inquiry alumni whose career pathway has taken him from North East England to the United Arab Emirates. Here he reflects on his career thus far and how his approach and mindset has its roots in his work on the Newcastle University M.Ed programme.

Shaun Robison image for blog

When I first started teaching, I was motivated by the challenge of teaching young people to think critically. I was always passionate about learning about other cultures, people and places and the opportunity to work on a government reform project focused on developing teachers’ pedagogy back in 2008 was too good to turn down. So I took the opportunity and moved to Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates. Al Ain is the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates and has the largest population of Emiratis. I originally planned to stay for a year and return to Newcastle in an expanded role. As part of my role in the project, I was able to complete my dissertation for my M.Ed on ”The Impact of Thinking Skills in a UAE Context”.

Since then, I have worked as a teacher-trainer, school improvement partner, higher education director and project director for a British educational operator and an Indian investment company. I am also the Co-Founder of the UAE Learning Network – the largest network of teachers in the country, a member of the Education Intelligence Group and I served as a panel member on the Education Matters Show for 3 years on Dubai Eye Radio Station. I have worked in the classroom developing teachers’ pedagogy and I have also written government tenders, business plans for large scale education reform projects and new build projects. I take great pride in knowing how a business plan and feasibility study can impact on the outcomes within a classroom and how a teacher can be equipped to deliver an innovative curriculum from a commercial perspective. I call it the physics of education – knowing how all of the parts impact on each other and understanding how to leverage different components to get better outcomes for the children in the classroom.

Aside from my professional life, I have learnt and been immersed in Arabic and Emirati culture. Learning and living with another culture can be incredibly challenging but I have learnt so much about myself and others that I can only say that the experience has been incredibly enriching. My wife and I both completed our PGCE and M.Ed at the same time and we have shared this adventure together here in the UAE.

The international sector should not be looked upon with rose tinted glasses; like everywhere, it has its benefits and its limitations. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly from many angles with respect to international schools so making the decision to teach abroad should not be taken lightly.

I have just recently conducted the first ever UAE Teacher and Educator Survey across the country. The findings have shocked certain sections of the industry here as they challenge the status quo but we have also highlighted the sector’s biggest challenge – retention of teachers. My intention for completing the survey was to give teachers a voice as they are often un-heard and on the fringes of the industry here, as it is purely market-led. I still remember and smile about the activity I did during my PGCE at Walker Technology College to gauge the teacher-voice within the school.  Working with and alongside teachers has been my constant passion since completing my PGCE and M.Ed and at my core, is everything I learnt at Newcastle

As educators, we should not underestimate lived experience. The international sector is awash with opportunities that may offer a glimpse into another world that may change your worldview on education.

Shaun Robison is currently completing his PhD in Education with Newcastle University on “Professional Learning Re-Constructed through Narrative Enquiry in the United Arab Emirates”. He has a passion for professional learning and teacher-training.

You can follow Shaun on twitter @shaun_robison

Making sense of the puzzle of practice

This blog is written by a Secondary PGCE Geography alumni whose career pathway has taken him from North East England to Sydney, Australia.  Here he reflects on his current work to support teachers to make sense of the puzzle in their practices and how this has its roots in his work on the Newcastle University PGCE programme.

A passion for thinking and learning was first fired in my PGCE course at Newcastle University, working alongside Rachel Lofthouse as my tutor. With an enhanced understanding of the seminal work of David Leat and the ‘Thinking through…’ team, I was able to use this as a springboard for the rest of my career. After seven years of teaching at Seaton Burn College, working in a variety of leadership roles but most prominently in the professional learning of teachers, a move to Australia led me to Masada College in St Ives, Sydney – an independent Jewish school for 3-18 year olds. My journey in leading and developing teacher capacity continued soon after joining Masada, primarily with a focus on embedding technologies. In 2015, I was invited to join the Executive team as Head of Teaching and Learning 7-12. My time in Australia has provided a myriad of opportunities and 2016 is no exception! It is shaping up to be another year full of professional learning. In July, I am extremely fortunate to have been accepted to be a participant at the Harvard University School of Education ‘Project Zero Classroom’ and ‘Future of Learning’ courses, both of which are central to our teaching and learning ethos at Masada. In addition, as the recipient of the NGS Superannuation ‘Dedicated to the Dedicated’ scholarship, I will visit USA schools who are pioneers in student centered classrooms. In connection with this study tour, working alongside ‘Flipped learning’ pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, I will facilitate professional learning at FlipCon in Adelaide and the Gold Coast.


This article represents a snapshot of my work alongside Carla Gagliano as my fellow Head of Teaching and Learning (ELC-6) and the many outstanding colleagues we have across the school.

Day One, Term One and as our new and established colleagues arrived back at Masada College, refreshed and looking forward to the year ahead, we began by asking them just one seemingly simple question: What do we want the children we teach to be like when they are adults? It’s a question that has been posed many times by our colleagues of the Project Zero team at Harvard University, to teachers around the world in developing cultures of thinking in schools.

The question creates a myriad of responses, but what is most interesting is the commonalities in what our teachers consider to be residuals of education. Not merely the ability to pass a test or reach the top Higher School Certificate grade, but imbue in our students a set of thinking dispositions (Ritchhart, 2002). Not thinking skills, but dispositions such open-mindedness, curiosity, scepticism, metacognition, compassion, inquisitiveness and truth-seeking amongst others. In this way, we see our students grow into the intellectual life around them. They learn to become thinkers, rather than do thinking.

At Masada College, through our Leading Learning educational package, we respect students’ talents, develop their creativity, their sense of responsibility, enrich their thinking and encourage everyone to strive to achieve their personal best. In our almost decade long journey in developing cultures of thinking, we have observed our teachers not ‘teaching thinking’ or relying on ‘thinking programs’ but instead leveraging cultural forces such as routines, language and interactions to create an environment where a collective and individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day-to-day experience for all.

370 - Sept 2015 publicity images - Photography by Mark Zworestine - MCZ12882

This ‘experience for all’ crucially includes our teachers. We embrace the notion that if we want a culture of thinking for our students, then we need a culture of thinking for our teachers. Guided by Project Zero consultant, Mark Church, all of our teachers conduct an action research project of their choosing to develop their understanding of a puzzle of practice to enhance student learning. At the heart of our culture of thinking are fortnightly focus groups, guided by an experienced facilitator. Working alongside peers to unpack their teaching puzzle, discuss possible next steps and share effective practice creates opportunities for rich discourse about teaching and learning.

As we have developed our culture and become a leading organisation using the approach, we are regularly asked to share our insights and learning with schools both nationally and internationally. Our highly acclaimed ‘Building Capability for Critical and Creative Thinking’ course is a three-part professional learning opportunity for us to share these insights and assist teachers and leaders from schools across New South Wales place critical and creative thinking at the heart of what happens in schools and classrooms. Throughout the course professional learners reflect on their practice and discover and embed this rich and transformative approach.

We strive for Masada graduates to display the sorts of attitudes toward thinking and learning we would most like to see in all young people – not closed-minded but open-minded, not bored but curious, neither gullible nor sweepingly negative but healthily sceptical, not satisfied with surface-level learning but digging deeper towards a genuine understanding. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that students truly become thinkers, not only to ensure examination success but to guarantee success beyond school and promote life-long learning.

Ryan Gill
Head of Teaching and Learning 7-12
Masada College, Sydney
Follow me on Twitter: @ryanagill


Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: the 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. Josey-Bass

Ritchhart, R. (2016). Making Thinking Visible: Using Thinking Routines in the Classroom. Presentation.