6. Advanced area: Creativity & Open Practice

This is an additional section for Senior CMALT, and therefore there is no comparison with my CMALT portfolio.


Over time this aspect of my career overlaps more and more with my work around inclusion and accessibility. More acceptance of playful learning is hopefully, one of the positives to come out of the move to remote learning that it became clear that this socialisation and engagement work was not only important but that many educators found difficult to create in online spaces. This has never been a formal requirement in any job specification that I have had and something that I have sought professional development in myself to empower me to embed it into my teaching and design practice, by underpinning it with research and shared practice. I have selected three specific examples to demonstrate some of the different approaches I have embedded into my practice and the impact they have had within and beyond my institutional settings.

Example 1: LEGO® Serious Play®

Qub icon, a red periodic table imageThis was also a journey that began with the Digital Education programme with another student sharing a LEGO build in one of our discussion forums. I immediately could envisage many different applications for it within in education settings and specifically for the reflective elements within the undergraduate medical curriculum. Following more in-depth research into the methodology, specifically helpful resources were by Alison James and Chrissi Nerantzi, I was even more convinced this would be a rich teaching and learning experience.

I wrote a business case for small budget from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences to buy a few basic LEGO sets. Following approval, I was then able to apply for workshop space within nearly introduced Student Development Weeks and again achieving approval from the Centre for Medical Education I designed the workshops for year 1 undergraduate medical students around reflective practice. I ran the same workshop multiple times during that week covering all 240 students and the feedback demonstrated that these were a massive success.

Having proven the concept of the methodology I sought external funding to cover the cost of the official training and won two separate grants from medical education bodies. Following the 4 day intensive facilitator training in London, I have since designed and led many sessions with staff and students and every time, amazing and unexpected stories and learning take place.

As a learning technologist I was keen to replicate the workshops in online spaces and have successfully delivered workshops using different platforms each time, such as Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and MS Teams, even before the pandemic.

Throughout my journey I disseminated in several different ways from conferences to papers and have had several requests to come and share my knowledge with others to enable them to be able to run their own workshops locally.

Example 2: FemEdTech

One of the open community of practices that I participate in is FemEdTech which is a “reflexive, emergent network of people learning, practising and researching in educational technology“. I have guest facilitated the Twitter account twice, which involved leading the account for a month period, sharing, showcasing and expanding the follower base. For each of my two months I chose one main focus; the first was boosting emerging voices in edtech and the second taking the ethos of hope from the upcoming book HE for Good, I also contributed to one of their international projects, the FemEdTech Quilt a truly sociomaterial experience for many. My square is shown in the top left in the photograph below. Wanting to address the issue of sustainability for a workshop for OER23 I was inspired by the quilt to have a sewing workshop at Inverness April 2023, using only found and existing materials. Some of the participants submitted their stories and photos to the FemEdTech blog via Splot: The collated stories following the OER23 workshop.


These creative approaches to teaching and learning are by far my favourite elements of my job. Every single session is completely different to previous sessions. However, the one thing they have in common is that success relies heavily on attendee participation and buy-in so I have worked hard at creating a warm environment with ‘a permission to play’ message.

CV1 A commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning

Undertaking the diploma in Digital Education fundamentally changed my pedagogical practice and approach to the interplay between technology and learning. Throughout the five taught modules (the first was a double module) I was inspired and amazed at the creativity of my peers whilst retaining a high level of criticality and scholarship. One of my favourite assignments was about the interplay of learning and technology and feedback on this helped me refine my LSP designs.

Participating in communities such #DS106 and #clmooc brings space for experimentation and learning with new apps and techniques.

CV2 A commitment to keep up to date with new technologies

When preparing to run online versions of the hands-on workshops I had to carefully consider which elements needed adaptation. Over years I have tried different synchronous platforms and how each had different affordances and limitations.

With regards to PowerPoint functionality, it is imperative that I keep up to date with all the different versions when advising and supporting others. One key example of this is generating video from PowerPoint on Mac OS machines, as until very recently the functionality was there on Mac OS to generate a mp4 file but it was always a silent movie. This fundamental flaw was known to Apple, who categorised it as a bug, but thankfully during the pandemic they finally resolved this issue.

CV3 An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialist areas

Experience as well as inspiration from others such as the Intention book by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder (activities I have used are listed on this post), the book Playful Learning, Events and Activities to Engage Adults (which I reviewed for the Journal of Play in Adulthood) and during the pandemic the work of Maha Bali and colleagues via UnboundEQ and OneHEGlobal.

Being part of different Jiscmail communities allows me to keep up with practice externally but also is a great way of finding out about events around creativity. For example, this month I am attending a seminar based on a provocation: To Play or Not to Play – A degree isn’t meant to be fun! which I am hoping will give me further insight into how best I can work to overcome barriers around engaging colleagues in playful, creative activities (credit Celia Popovic, via SEDA mailing list).

One of the moments of tension during the pandemic with myself and some of the ODL team was around the functionality in PowerPoint of generating mp4 files. For those who did not have the capacity to learn the recently rolled out Panopto video platform I would support them through generating a lecture recording via PowerPoint and then uploading it Panopto afterwards which was straightforward (as opposed to the screen recording which was relatively complex to those new to the system). However, my colleagues would be firm that staff should never use the what is commonly known as narrated PowerPoints as from a technical perspective it often failed and caused a lot of load on the helpdesk to resolve.

Learning from them as to why they were so against narrated PowerPoints (too large files frequently crashed the system) I would thoughtfully navigate when this arose to maintain a united approach as a team whilst keeping stressed colleagues from thinking they had to redo all the work they had already done. Sometimes I would download their huge mp4 recordings from Blackboard and reduce the file size (using Miro Video Converter) and upload to Panopto myself. I would then encourage attendance at a future Panopto training session or one-to-one.

CV4 A commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice

As an open practitioner sharing and disseminating is something I do regularly, whether formally or informally. I have shared this work in many different ways, openly on Twitter, through #clmooc, conferences, papers, blog posts, internal teaching and learning newsletters for example. As I love this work sharing is a joy, yet I do worry that audience members may think it frivolous, unconvinced of the learning benefits. Building my own evidence base will I hope alleviate this together with strong research foundations.


Recognition from the Vice Chancellor, Queen’s University Belfast, 2018: “On Saturday 30 June, the theme of the Graduation lunch will be ‘Impact and Innovation’ and I would be delighted if you could attend this lunch. You will join a small number of selected staff and students from around the University who have also made a special contribution to this area over the last year.” The LSP work was also shortlisted for a Queen’s University Teaching Award in the same year.

External testimonial

Clare Thomson’s work has has a big impact on me due to her inspiring work on forging creative and inclusive approaches in educational research and practice. Clare works with great care, openness and honesty and has a growing international profile that is testament to her leadership skills in the sector. She is one of the first names I look for when reading a conference programme as her work has helped and inspired me greatly in developing my teaching and scholarly practice.“, Associate Professor, Dublin City University

I met Clare at the very start of my medical education journey. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor- she encouraged me to push the boundaries, inspired me and guided me! Clare is unbelievably creative and I’m always in awe of her ideas. She is approachable and thoughtful! I can never thank her enough for believing in me and making my dreams of a medical education career a possibility!Paediatrician, Queen’s University Belfast

I wanted to thank you for your input – but also to tell you that in session feedback, there were requests for you to do a workshop (presumably an interactive session with lego!) at the ASM next year. I do hope you will consider applying to do this and note that you can state in the application that feedback was received this year asking you to do so!“, Medical Education Conference organiser

LEGO® Serious Play®

A previous colleague from Queen’s University Belfast presenting at OER23, demonstrating the use of LSP within their faculty following participation in my workshops previousy.


A quilt being held up against a bright plain wall. The person on the left is a female in a bright pink plain top and grey hair and the person on the right is a female with a dark jacket and dark hair. Both are smiling.
Frances Bell and Kate Molloy, holding the #FemEdTech Quilt at OER23 in Inverness

Future Plans >>