Lunchtime webinar: Creativity in the classroom

Following on from their Learning and Teaching Forum workshop on 22 February, Dr Sara Perry (Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Management in the Department of Archaeology) and Tom Smith (IT Adviser in Information Services) agreed to host a ‘special guest edition’ of one of our monthly lunchtime webinars. We’ve split the recording of the session into two separate videos; the first part presented by Dr Sara Perry and covering some examples of digital tools she has utilised in her teaching, and the second part covering some of the projects that Tom Smith has undertaken with departments across the university using tools from the Google Apps for Education suite as well as other online tools. There are written summaries for each section under each video and links to relevant case studies and examples of the work being cited at the end of this post.

Dr Sara Perry


Sara Perry has used a wide variety of digital tools with both undergraduate and postgraduate students and has encouraged them to create videos and blog posts, share resources through social media and communicate with professionals in their field to gain ‘real world’ experience in ways that wouldn’t necessarily happen with more traditional forms of assessment.

Sara’s motivations for introducing more digital tools into the classroom was the feeling that her students did not necessarily have the skills to critically engage with technology in ways that would expose them to real-world contacts and experiences. Many people assume that younger students are expert ‘digital natives’ who have grown up with technology, when in fact their skills and ability do not align with such assumptions. Sara wanted to give students the chance to produce learning outputs that they could be proud of and could use in a professional context and believes that the benefits of opening up pedagogy far outweighed the safety and accountability of conventional methods.

Sara cites Twitter as one of the most valuable tools she has used as part of her teaching as it gave her students the chance to think about heritage and archaeology in ways they had not thought about before. She established hashtags such as #yorkchm2 and #yorkunimuseums to enable students to share information and communicate with Sara and each other. Students were encouraged to sign up to Twitter at the start of the modules, but this was not compulsory or assessed and students were able to engage as they wished. Those who did engage found their own communities of practice, communicated with professionals in the field and were enable to participate, and even initiate, debates in the discipline. The students even started their own hashtag #freearchaeology. Some of Sara’s students have even gone on to become social media coordinators for the companies they have gone to work for since university.

“It actually got me reading news related to heritage & archaeology, which previously I’d never bothered with ever…I knew more than I ever did prior to studying it or even working in various positions. That definitely raised awareness quite substantially…Twitter…built understanding and actually widened my own interests.”

PG student feedback on using Twitter 

Sara has also used a variety of the tools available through the Google Apps for Education suite, which everybody at University of York has access to, and has also used some of the wider Google apps such as Blogger and YouTube to get students to produce videos and blogs focusing on their research into the archaeological site, Star Carr. Our case study of Sara’s Heritage Practice module is an example of the methods Sara adopted to ensure that her students were equipped with the skills to connect theory to research and present their work in a public forum. After a couple of years of asking students to produce videos and blogs for this particular module, Sara (with help from Tom) wanted to try something different and experimented with getting students to create mobile apps for Breary Banks instead, using a tool called Livecode. Student feedback on Sara’s methods has been positive and many of her students have appreciated the chance to learn new skills in a professional context.

“We wanted to be more professional, more than if it was just a University project because you know that its going to be long lasting and its going to be in the Museum for a while and quite a lot of people will see it. So you don’t want to produce something that’s just going to be; ‘Ah its ok’. You actually want to be able to be like; ‘Yeah I’m proud of that.’

Y1 UG student feedback

Sara has also used Google Groups and external writing platform Medium with her postgraduate students. Every week, Sara would post a question into a Google Group and students were able to use the Group space as a discussion forum, with some weeks having between 45-50 posts in the forum. Many students saw the benefit of being able to have this dialogue with their peers outside of the face-to-face classes and one international student really appreciated the difference this made in terms of communicating in a second language.

“I was really satisfied with the idea of using Google Groups because I’m an international student [South Korean] so I can understand what professors are speaking…but the problem is when British students are speaking, I can hardly understand. But in Google Groups, I can study outside of the classroom so I can understand 100% what British people are speaking. So for me, I can say what I want to. If I speak to you face-to-face, I can’t speak 100% what I’d like…you know what I mean?”

PG student feedback

With Medium, students were asked to work in groups to write a post on a heritage topic of their choice. In a similar vein to Twitter (except with more characters at your disposal) Medium opens up a public-facing dialogue with a wider community and this gave students the opportunity to think about how they would communicate with a wider audience and to practice skills that would contribute to future employment prospects. Sara’s experiences with using Medium with her students is still relatively new, but initial feedback has shown that they saw the benefits of using a platform such as Medium. The benefits of using a combination of both Google Groups and Medium is that the former allows for a closed debate between those who are studying the module, whereas Medium gave students the chance to enter into a dialogue with a wider audience and think critically about how they would communicate and represent themselves in an open forum.

“Impressed by the amount of energy, passion, commitment, rigour + thought and critique generated by the class. Great pedagogical framework, great combination of creativity and experimentation.”

“I thought the use of Google Group and linked with the module was really stimulating to develop new ideas, discussions around heritage.”

Feedback from two PG Students

Tom Smith


Tom Smith’s area of expertise is in collaborative tools, particularly the use of the Google apps for Education suite that is available to all University of York users. Tom has worked on a number of bespoke projects with different departments across the university to make Google tools work effectively for their teaching and learning need (see the Case Studies section below). During the webinar, Tom shared some of the work he’s done to help departments use Google tools more creatively.

Google Sites

Ogier the Dane

Tom helped set up a Google Site that used AppsScript to create a linked page for each scanned section of Chanson d’Ogier (in British Library Royal Manuscript 15 E VI). The idea was to then produce a ‘crowd-sourced’ transcription and translation of the manuscript from Middle French to modern English. Anybody could request to join the Ogier the Dane Transcribers Google Group and start contributing to the translation and transcription.

Essays and Portfolios

Tom worked with the Philosophy department to encourage students to use Google Sites for formative essays on key philosophers. Our team has also worked with the Department of Education to assist them with using Google Sites as e-portfolios. Staff were able to set up a template based on a Standards Profile pro-forma which students then copied for their individual sites. Students’ Google Sites were shared with the relevant staff members for comment and feedback and the sites were able to be ‘locked down’ so that staff could mark them without students being able to make further edits. For more information about how Google Sites could be used as portfolios, see the case study below and please don’t hesitate to contact us at to discuss your requirements.

An Introduction to Collaboration

Former ELDT member Simon Davis worked alongside Tom Smith and Mike Dunn in 2015 to develop a week long ‘collaborative event’ with Human Resource Management postgraduate students to introduce them to Google tools that they would later be using as part of a group project. The aims of this project were to scaffold the development of digital skills that students would require later in the programme and to encourage the students to make critical choices about their use of technology. Feedback from students was mixed and there is certainly scope for development with this particular project if other departments wanted to experiment. Read up on the full case study below.

Choosing the right tool

One of the main takeaways from both the webinar and Sara and Tom’s Forum workshop was to think about what it is you want to achieve through your teaching and push yourself to try something new. Often, this can mean stepping out of our comfort zone and trying a new technology or using a tool in a different way does take time and commitment.

Section 4.4 of the York TEL Handbook is on ‘Choosing the right tool’ and maps pedagogical approaches to particular tools. These approaches are based on the Learner Engagement Cards shared by the University of Ulster on their SlideShare profile. This is a great place to start if you want to utilise more technology in your teaching to make sure that the tools you are using are a good fit for what you want to achieve. The slides from Sara and Tom can be accessed via the link below.

Case Studies

Below are some examples of the work that Sara and Tom have done, as well as case studies showing how Google tools have been used in other departments across the university. Sara and Tom will be available to answer questions on the work that they’ve done at the end of the webinar.

If you have any questions about anything that was covered in the webinar, please don’t hesitate to contact the E-Learning Development Team (, Tom Smith in Information Services ( or Dr Sara Perry (

Future lunchtime webinars will be advertised on our Development Opportunities page.

Blog post featured image used under a CC licence from mkhmarketing on Flickr.

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