In this talk, Dr Juliette Wilson-Thomas presented project-based learning, creative critical assessment, and playful pedagogy as innovative strategies in pedagogical design. Through project-based pedagogy, students are empowered to explore real-world problems, fostering engagement and autonomy. Juliette illustrated this approach with examples such as a public campaign project, where students collaborate to create meaningful initiatives. This not only enhanced learning but also cultivated essential skills like teamwork and public speaking.

Throughout the talk, Juliette shared examples of classroom activities and assignments designed to promote creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. She highlighted the value of creating a supportive and inclusive atmosphere where students feel comfortable expressing themselves and engaging with the course material. One example was inviting students to write letters to their future selves revealing insights into the students’ educational journeys and experiences. Through playful pedagogy (e.g., incorporating games and interactive activities) she breaks down barriers and fosters a supportive learning environment. Overall, this talk emphasises the importance of creating meaningful educational experiences that resonate with diverse student backgrounds and aspirations.

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Working with early years and education students on a foundation course at Manchester Metropolitan University I have implemented a playful, creative and project-based pedagogic strategy. This strategy was designed to develop inclusive and meaningful engagement in higher education particularly for students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds in HE. In the first part of the year academic skills are taught through games and play, and in the second part of the year students are engaged in a series of projects which develop in scope. The assessment methods are ‘creative critical’ and engage students in creative reflection and meaning-making. Using an innovative longitudinal qualitative methodology I conducted in-depth research with 2 cohorts of students, and found that the strategy is effective for inclusion and developing student bonds with both peers and staff through the creation of a positive learning ‘atmosphere’. In reflecting on their entire student journeys, participants also observed that the foundation course had developed a confidence in the students which was comparably higher to that of their non-foundation peers in the degree. The data also shows that students found project-based learning some of the most memorable of their experiences in higher education at the end of their four years, and that the assessments were some of the most enjoyable. Thus project-based learning and playfulness is an important pedagogy approach for engaging diverse students in HE, and creative critical assessments can be an effective strategy for meaningful engagement in assessment processes.

About the speaker

Dr Juliette Wilson-Thomas is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years and Childhood Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University where she leads the school foundation programme. Juliette is a sociological researcher with expertise in inequalities, work and early years. Her teaching and learning practice is framed by critical pedagogy, and she develops project-based and playful pedagogic opportunities for students to engage with.