There Are Other Fish in the Sea: Open-up and Connect

Chapter image for There Are Other Fish in the Sea: Open-up and Connect.
Authored by

Chrissi Nerantzi, Melita Panagiota Sidiropoulou, Harriet Dunbar-Morris, Lucy Sharp, Kirsten Farrell-Savage, Karen Heard-Lauréote, Sarah Speight, Raheel Nawaz, Mohammed Ali

About this contribution

The aim of this contribution is to provide a resource for instructional designers to use with educators and students to trigger reflection on practice and identify the opportunities open education could bring to learning and teaching. It also aims to build related capacity and capabilities to make informed changes to practice where they see there would be benefits for students.

A scaffolded and supported approach is recommended that can lead progressively to learner autonomy, peer-to-peer learning, and can help students connect with networks and communities. We first report on a study in which the team explored the perceptions of quality learning of ethnically diverse students at four universities in the United Kingdom and use some of our findings around independent learning as a trigger for this contribution and the resource we share.

This resource aims to be a hands-on inquiry to be used in staff and student development sessions and provides activities to enable participants to open up and explore alternative ways of learning and teaching that have the potential to lead to more connected experiences and personal growth and maturity as a learner.


A recent collaborative enhancement study funded by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in the UK, led by the University of Portsmouth and partners Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Nottingham, and Solent University investigated differing perceptions of the quality of learning of ethnically diverse students, and particularly Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic reached the UK in Semester 2 of the academic year 2019-20, having started in China in autumn 2019. Our study took place in the academic year 2020-21. We surveyed (n=835) first and second-year undergraduate students at the four aforementioned UK universities on Health Science, Business, Accounting, Engineering, and Computing programs who had registered on campus-based courses but due to the pandemic the mode of the study had to be changed in most cases to fully online.

Students demonstrated resourcefulness and flexibility to engage with video resources, including recordings of sessions and further recordings on specific course-related topics, in an active way and saw them as valuable for their learning (Dunbar-Morris et al., 2021). While this was encouraging, the findings also indicated that students missed being part of a learning community, learning with others synchronously and asynchronously, forming closer connections, supporting and collaborating with their tutors and peers, and also making friends.

In their study, Turnbull et al. (2021) and Davies et al. (2021) came to similar conclusions and highlighted the need to boost social learning. The majority of students seemed to look primarily inwards to their program and their institution for resources. This is a limitation in the approach students are using for their learning as it has been recognized that a wider support network and contacts beyond the course they study can be invaluable for their experience, performance, and success (Adey, 2021).

Students were and are facing extraordinary challenges and these were/are unfortunately not unique in these times. The wider academic community who are also facing these challenges can work together to support each other and enhance a learning experience through the use of open practices, and learning networks. Such an approach would require staff development and scaffolding to integrate such modes of learning into the curriculum.

The above findings provide valuable food for thought to the team of researchers and have the potential to inform practices in their own institutions, and further afield, to remedy some of the key challenges experienced during the pandemic and we have done this through our recommendations (Dunbar-Morris et al., 2021). One possible practice to motivate students to learn independently will be described in the next sections.


We will engage you in activating your thinking, reflection, and actions to make evidence-informed changes to learning and teaching. This contribution could be used by academic teams across disciplines and professional areas, as well as academic and learning developers and learning technologists, to address loneliness, support wellbeing, and academic engagement, and further strengthen and co-create with students flexible and inclusive learning opportunities based on connected and open pedagogical approaches and pathways.

Our aim is to help educators and students recognize and harness the power of open practices, networks and communities, during and beyond an academic program with the help of a pedagogic scaffold and support model. This will boost digital competencies and ensure seamless learning, illustrating that learning can happen anywhere, anyhow, anytime and that there are other fish in the sea when it comes to supporting learning and creating stimulating and diverse learning experiences.

We provide a example activity that illustrates how to support socialization, learning, teaching and assessment and create mirrors and windows in the curriculum for diverse student populations. Educators and students are invited to engage with the resource provided in the form of a prompt that captures student voices. They can relate it to the context of their practice to articulate evidence-informed responses that address some of the specific challenges they are faced, turn them into stimulating, open and connected learning opportunities and celebrate diversity through inclusive learning and teaching.


With the suggested resource, you are asked to reflect on the following quotation and a podcast, and then answer some questions. To help you answer the questions, we provide a tool – the FISh model (Nerantzi & Uhlin, 2012) and a matrix.

Step One – The Quotation

The following quotation is authentic and is from a student who participated in the QAA project described in the introduction of this article. They are referring to their study experience the past academic year and during the pandemic; this experience included a lot of independent work:

“Obviously a lot of independent work because you don’t have to turn up to the lectures; you can do it in your own time. Obviously you’re given all of the resources that you need. I think as well, coming from college and school to university, you realise that not doing the independent work or the work that’s been set – let’s say like the reading – you’re only putting yourself at a disadvantage so I think it’s really important to do it. Last year I didn’t do so much, but this year I have and I’ve realised how important it is to your learning.”

This quotation was used to trigger a discussion with three further students around independent learning which has been captured as a podcast. The students share their own thoughts, responses and related experiences around independent learning in response to the above quotation.

Step Two – Listen to the Podcast

The discussion has been provided in audio and text format.

PDF Transcript

Step Three – Discussion Prompts (Part 1)

After engaging with the above podcast, or the transcript, please consider the following prompts:

  1. Discuss your learning experiences within a community, within a course, and beyond; with a focus on the importance of wellbeing and inclusion.
  2. Reflect on your own practice and the role you play in contributing to a learning community, while promoting wellbeing and inclusion within the curriculum.

3.  Review your current practice as a result of this inquiry and put a plan for action together. What steps could you take to address wellbeing and inclusion in your learning design?

The proposed discussion prompts can be personalised and contextualised before conducting the inquiry. Think about what you would like to learn through this. You could work on this on your own or with others in a small group. You can use the FISh model that follows.

The FISh Model

Consider using the FISh model (Nerantzi & Uhlin, 2012) to conduct your individual or collaborative inquiry using the above scenario. Remember to personalise and contextualise the above prompts after you have decided what the focus of your inquiry will be. Conduct your inquiry and share your findings with others. What do you propose?

You can use the FISh prompts below for discussion and the FISh visualisation to capture your responses, if you wish. Both the prompts and the FISh model are optional tools to help with your reflection.

FISh: Focus – Investigate – Share

Step 1: Focus

  • What do I/we see?
  • How do I/we understand what we see?
  • What do I/we need to find out more about?
  • Specify learning issues/intended learning outcomes!

Step 2: Investigate

  • How and where am I/are we going to find answers?
  • What will I do/Who will do what and by when?
  • What main findings and solutions do I/we propose?

Step 3: Share

  • How am I/are we going to present my/our findings?
  • What do I/we want to share with the community?
  • How can I/we provide feedback to others?
  • What reflections do I have about my learning (and working with others)?

The following readings and resources may be useful and relevant:

  1. Lister, K., Seale, J.& Douce, C. (2021). Mental health in distance learning: a taxonomy of barriers and enablers to student mental wellbeing. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning
  2. Gourlay, L, Campbell, K, Clark, L, Crisan, C, Katsapi, E, Riding, K & Warwick, I. (2021). ‘Engagement’ Discourses and the Student Voice: Connectedness, Questioning and Inclusion in Post-Covid Digital Practices. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2021(1): 15, pp. 1–13.
  3. Havemann, L. & Roberts, V. (2021). Pivoting Open? Pandemic Pedagogy and the Search for Openness in the Viral Learning Environment. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2021(1): 27, pp. 1–11.
  4. Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of Open Pedagogy: A Model for Using Open Educational Resources. Educational Technology, July– August 2015, pp. 3-13.
  5. In German: Muuss-Merhol, J. (2022) Führt die Digitalisierung ins pädagogische Paradies? Kontrollverlust der Lehrenden und Empowerment der Lernenden. Jöran und Konsorten Agentur der Bildung. 9 February 2022
  6. UPP Foundation (2022) A student futures manifesto. WonkHE, gti, Shakespeare Martineau. Available at
  7. Turner, I. J., Bolton-King, R. S., Francis, N. J., Nichols-Drew, L. J. & Smith, D. P.. (2022) Collaborative Online Communities of Practice. Jisc digital culture, 9 March 22. Available at

Step Four – Discussion Prompts (Part 2)

After engaging in Part 1 activities, please consider the following prompts to further extend opportunities for independent learning.

  1. What role can networks, communities, open educational resources and open pedagogies that stretch beyond the boundaries of a module, programme and university, play in helping students become more autonomous and feel a sense of belonging at the same time?
  2. How can educators go about designing learning that harnesses such opportunities within your practice to enrich the students’ learning experiences? Identify three things educators could try and what could these change for learning and teaching?
  3. What is the responsibility of a student? What could students try and what difference could this make to them becoming independent learners and feeling part of a learning community?

Use the following table to capture your responses to the above prompts and discuss.

 What could you try?What is your rationale?What is your anticipated outcome?
1. What role can networks, communities,  open educational resources and open pedagogies that stretch beyond the boundaries of a module, programme and university, play in helping students become more autonomous and feel a sense of belonging at the same time?   
2. How can educators go about designing learning that harnesses such opportunities within your practice to enrich the students’ learning experiences? Identify three things educators could try and what could these change for learning and teaching?   
3. What is the responsibility of a student? What could students try and what difference could this make to them becoming independent learners and feeling part of a learning community?   

You can also create a poster, cartoon, drawing or any other output to tell your story and what you have found through this inquiry as a whole or for Parts 1 and 2 separately.

Open invitation

After engaging with this resource, we invite educators and students to create further related resources to boost autonomous learning and share back with the community. We can then collectively create a wider and more diverse range of opportunities to learn, develop, enhance and transform our practices and curricula with and from each other.


We would like to thank Ellie Hannan for designing the FISh model which is available under a CC-BY_SA licence, the whole project team and all students who participated in the discussions to create the podcast for this activation/resource.


Adey, L. (2021). Your Path, Your Way to Successful Networking: Building Strong Connections for Your Future Career, 2021.  Ancaster: Ladey Adey Publications.

Davies, J. A., Davies, L. J., Conlon, B., Emerson, J., Hainsworth, H., & McDonough, H. G. (2020). Responding to COVID-19 in EAP contexts: A comparison of courses at four Sino-foreign universities. International Journal of TESOL Studies, 2(2), 32–52.

Dunbar-Morris, H., Ali, M., Brindley, N., Farrell-Savage, K., Sharp, L., Sidiropoulou, M.P., Heard-Laureote, K., Lymath, D., Nawaz, R., Nerantzi, C., Prathap, V., Reeves, A., Speight, S., & Tomas, C. (2021). Analysis of 2021 Differing Perceptions of Quality of Learning (final report). University of Portsmouth.

Nerantzi, C. & Uhlin, L. (2012) FDOL131 Design, http://fdol.wordpress. com/fdol131/design/

Turnbull, D., Chugh, R. & Luck, J. Transitioning to E-Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic: How have Higher Education Institutions responded to the challenge? Education and Information Technologies 26, 6401–6419 (2021).

This work is has a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

We want your voice. Add Issues.

We want your voice. Add Role Perspectives.

We want your voice. Add Lenses.

We want your voice. Add Settings.


Textbooks, scholarly literature, and even current events reflected in venues ranging from social media to journalism, all present a continuous roll of issues that have topical relevance in a course setting. To use this lens dentify one or more issues that are relevant to the topic in this chapter. Issues can range very widely, from ongoing debates about privacy to public health to emerging stories about climate events.

Role Perspectives

Different roles can have an impact on interests and perspectives. For example, being a student is in itself a role – including domestic, international, full time or part time, newly matriculated or mid-career professional, along with such other possible roles as parent, administrator, educator or other areas within life outside of the educational milieu.


You may choose or be assigned to research the chapter topic from a particular lens, such as decolonization, historical justice, anti-racism, and other such anti-oppressive perspectives that centre on alternative narratives to those that present in dominant cultures. By working with a specific lens, you can research issues from a social justice perspective. In addition, the use of lenses can also encourage a focus on transdisciplinary approaches.


Many learning experiences in higher education include various forms of experiential learning intended to integrate workplace or community-based learning with formal education. Focusing on a specific setting can help focus the learning on specific settings. You may come to your studies from, or with ambitions toward, a particular industry or workplace, community setting, within education or a profession, corporate or public sector, or any of many possible disciplines. For instance, learning design in higher education is often quite different from the corporate world or within government. These settings may have an influence on the perspectives you bring and/or would like to bring to your research and course work.

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