Congratulations to Sarah McNicol – Wellcome Trust small grant winner

I’m thrilled to have recently been awarded a small grant by the Wellcome Trust under their Medical Humanities programme. My project is looking at the impact of educational comics on feelings and attitudes towards health conditions so I’ll be interviewing people who either have a health condition themselves, or have a close family member with one, to try to find out how educational comics might provide support in dealing with the emotion aspects of illness, as well as being a source of information.

There are educational comics about a wide range of illnesses and they may have a number of purposes, including raising awareness; preparing patients for procedures; assisting with decision making; promoting self-management; or simply increasing understanding and acceptance of a condition. In a recent article, I argued that while it is important to evaluate the factual comprehension of health information gained by reading education comics, it is also essential to consider how reading a comic may impact on a patient’s (or relative’s) feelings and attitudes. So in this research, I plan to investigate how, and to what extent, educational comics might provide support in dealing with feelings and attitudes associated with health conditions, for example, fears and anxieties, social interactions and relationships. I’ll also attempt to identify any potential weaknesses comics may have in this respect and suggest how they might be better evaluated to take account of their potential social and psychological benefits, as well as how they convey factual information.

This is only a small scale project, but I’m hoping it can act as a pilot to test an approach which can be adapted to a wider audience, including adults with a wider range of health conditions and children. It’s great that before the project’s even started I’ll already had interest from a number of people including Medikidz (publishers of a wide range of health education comics for young people) and BoosterShot comics (creators of comics, animations etc).

I’m currently recruiting interviewees, so if you’re interested in taking part, please fill in your detail on this form.

Sarah McNicol

Can guessing games motivate learners?

Can a game of chance engage the brain and accelerate learning?


A project to investigate whether the uncertainty inherent in games can increase the rate at which children learn science, will get underway thanks to a £650,000 funding boost.

Academics from the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University will work with schools to assess how games, including video games, engage the brain’s reward system.

It’s one of six new projects funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation to investigate a variety of ways neuroscience might improve teaching and learning in the UK.

Teachers often encourage their students by giving rewards, such as gold stars, in return for good answers. In this project, however, the rewards for good answers are decided by chance.

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol, is leading a team supported by Dr Nicola Whitton of MMU’s Education and Social Research Institute.

Paul said: “Previous research has shown that not knowing whether a reward will materialise can add to the excitement and motivation around learning. We’re gaining a better understanding of how uncertainty can increase the rate at which we learn, thanks to new insights that have arisen from neuroscience.

“We’re really looking forward to working with teachers to develop a novel game-based approach to whole-class teaching that applies these insights.”

Working with students in Year 8 science lessons, classes will collaborate in teams to accumulate points by answering questions, with the option of doubling or losing points for correct answers on the spin of a wheel of fortune.

Free web-based technology will be used to connect the class up and allow all students to participate at once. The technology will also randomly select teams for special challenges, and provide occasional pay-outs of points based purely on luck.

Nicola, one of MMU’s National Teaching Fellows, said: “Knowing there is a link between uncertain rewards and learning, is fine but but what does this mean for actual teachers and pupils. Our intention is to look at how the science translates into classroom practice, asking whether this helps raise attainment for learners.”

Researchers are initially looking to recruit six schools in the South West to take part in the first stage of the project, starting in January 2015, to help develop the gaming experience. The project will then be rolled out more widely to include 35 schools in the area.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust said: “Our growing understanding of how the brain acquires and processes information has great potential to improve teaching and learning. We know that many teachers are keen to try new approaches based on neuroscience; however, we have so far lacked evidence about what will actually be beneficial to their students.”


This first appeared on the MMU website – to read it follow this link.

Creating the Future Classroom: Evidence from the iTEC report

Cathy Lewin and Sarah McNicol have just completed the report ‘Creating the Future Classroom: Evidence from the iTEC report’.

iTEC (Innovative Technologies for an Engaging Classroom) was a four-year research and development project funded by the European Commission involving 26 partners: ministries of education (MoEs), technology providers and research organisations. iTEC aimed to transform and scale-up the use of technology in learning and teaching in compulsory education. Through iTEC, educational tools and resources were piloted with some 50,000 students in 2624 classrooms across 20 European countries.

Evaluating the impact of iTEC Learning Activities in schools

Over the four years, the evaluators gathered the views of teachers and students (some 1,488 were surveyed), national coordinators and policy-makers through surveys, interviews, focus groups, case studies and observations. The results were collated under three headings in the final evaluation report.

How did the iTEC approach impact on learners and learning

  • Key finding 1: Teachers perceived that the iTEC approach developed students’ 21st century skills, notably independent learning; critical thinking, real world problem solving and reflection; communication and collaboration; creativity; and digital literacy. Their students had similar views.
  • Key finding 2: Student roles in the classroom changed; they became peer assessors and tutors, teacher trainers, co-designers of their learning and designers/producers.
  • Key finding 3: Participation in classroom activities underpinned by the iTEC approach impacted positively on students’ motivation.
  • Key finding 4: The iTEC approach improved students’ levels of attainment, as perceived by both teachers (on the basis of their assessment data) and students.

How did the iTEC approach impact on teachers and teaching?

  • Key finding 5: The Future Classroom Scenario development process was viewed as innovative by policy makers, teachers and stakeholders, but further work is needed.
  • Key finding 6: Teachers and coordinators perceived that the Learning Activity development process has potential to develop innovative digital pedagogies in the classroom, but further work is needed.
  • Key finding 7: Teachers perceived that the iTEC approach enhanced their pedagogy and digital competence.
  • Key finding 8: Teachers became more enthusiastic about their pedagogical practices.
  • Key finding 9: Teachers stated that they used technology more frequently; it was systematically integrated throughout the learning process rather than reserved for research or presentations.
  • Key finding 10: Teachers were introduced to digital tools they had not used before; some were more favourably received than others.
  • Key finding 11: Teachers collaborated more, both within and beyond their schools, a process facilitated through the online communities.

What is the potential of the iTEC approach for system-wide adoption in schools?

  • Key finding 12: Awareness of the iTEC approach is growing in educational systems, and there are signs of widespread uptake.
  • Key finding 13: The scenario-led design process can support mainstreaming of innovation, provided the process is refined.
  • Key finding 14: The library of scenarios, Learning Stories and Learning Activities was viewed by policy makers and teachers as a valuable output of iTEC to support system-wide classroom innovation.
  • Key finding 15: In countries in which iTEC aligns closely with national policies and strategies, the iTEC approach is likely to be adopted and to influence future practices.

To read the report click on the link below:

MMU1748%20iTEC%20Magazine%202014%20AW (dragged)