Building Learning Communities in Digital Spaces – First Lessons

‘Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’


The above reference from The Wizard of Oz has become an expression when one finds themselves in new and unfamiliar territory. To call this academic year, new and unfamiliar is an understatement to say the least. It has been a series of firsts for me. My first time of organising Induction & Orientation activities for online delivery. The first time of delivering teaching and learning activities without having met our students in person or even in the tiny little ‘boxes’ in my Collaborate classroom. However, as I come to the end of the third week of teaching and I begin the reluctant  gradual acceptance of what is actually within my control at the moment with respect to teaching, a short note from a student prompted me to reflect.

“…I also wanted to say that the session yesterday was really great. I really enjoy your classes.

Brief.. but was like a glass of cold water after walking for hours in a desert. After weeks of going round in circles, decision making and increasing anxiety about how everything was going to go this year, it was some validation that I did not even realise I needed. It got me thinking about what could be have prompted the feedback and space to reflect and get a more accurate picture about how things are going. COVID-19 is not going anywhere, and I cannot tell how long we will be in the spaces we are currently occupying – as educators and as learners. These lessons are from my reflections and are helping me to navigate the sea of uncertainties in respect to facilitating learning in the digital/virtual/online spaces we all occupy at the moment.

“We are not ‘just’ delivering lectures, seminars, webinars or attending them. We are building, hopefully, a vibrant community of learners.”

Amara Anyogu, PhD (@intentionalacad)

Being intentional – Over our two-week Induction, I had the opportunity to ‘meet’ with the students on our course and share my thoughts and hear from them about building community. Research shows that learners who develop a sense of belonging are more likely to be successful in achieving their learning goals. I talked with our new learners about how they were not just joining an institution but a community of educators and learners. While community members may have distinct roles and responsibilities, there should be a shared, communal goal of achieving success. Each individual brings something to the table, each individual has a responsibility towards ensuring learning happens. While our community is still taking shape, it has been so heart-warming to see so many acts of kindness from our students. Developing a communal set of ‘netiquette’ principles for our online sessions, students managing discussion boards and chats, answering their peer’s questions and queries before I can even pick them up. We had our first onsite session this week and it was so great to meet in person. Afterwards, I realised there was no real awkwardness of meeting for the first time. Investing time over two weeks for Orientation enabled us to feel like we had known each other as there were different opportunities to engage. It was like meeting someone you ‘know’ from social media when you have built up enough positive interactions to get over the initial awkwardness. Learning, is in part a social activity and as the semester goes on, I hope we can continue to build on this. Building a community anywhere and at anytime is hard work but it is so essential.

Embracing speaking into space – I have been a silent observer in many Teams chats, email discussion threads and Twitter conversations about our discomfort as educators of seemingly speaking into space i.e. learners not using their videos. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to participate in and moderate panel discussions and speak to large audiences at online meetings. The first time I gave a talk and could only see my slides, I remember calling out to ‘space’, ‘Can anyone hear me?’ It felt so odd…I cannot believe I miss the whole spectrum from engaged to bored, incredulous to antagonistic facial expressions in my classroom. A few months later, I am adjusting, the key word being ‘I’. Of course, we would prefer to put a face to the names in the little boxes on our screen and pick up on body language cues when facilitating sessions. However, as an introvert who often switches off her own video in large group settings, I can empathise. For many students, it is less about engagement and more to do with bandwidth, nerves, and maybe even trust. I love this discussion from Dr Carina Buckley which is encouraging us to focus less on cameras and more on creating avenues for students to participate. I choose to meet students where they are. ‘I would love to see who I am speaking with but please only do this when you are ready’ is my position. I am trying to remind students that their voice matters in the classroom and to use it as. My class has over 160 students who are just starting their Higher education journey. As the weeks progress, I can see more students speaking in class and switching their cameras on in the smaller breakout sessions. I even got interrupted once (smile emoji), a nostalgic reminder of face to face lessons. For any educators out there teaching large groups, I totally understand.

Image credit – Pixabay

Finding what works includes failing forward – As we approached online learning, there were many webinars, many ‘how to’ guides and many discussion forums focused on ‘how to get it right’ online. Asynchronous vs. synchronous? Should we Kahoot or Padlet or PollEverywhere or Google Doc? Chats on or off in large lectures? I remember being told about the attention span online is much shorter than face to face, so to embed an activity after each 7-minute period of speaking. A positive element of learning in digital spaces is the disruption to the status quo. I am asking new questions about the clarity and alignment of learning outcomes, how I am orientating students towards the topic being discussion and better ways to display information and support students in reviewing their learning. However, I must confess being overwhelmed by the plethora of how to’s. I have decided to start by keeping it simple (and sensible) and working from there. I identified that a lot of my anxiety was centred around perfection. How does one achieve perfection as a novice though? As a scientist, I believe in evidence. Experiment, analyse data and make a decision. My simple idea was to deliver synchronous learning around pedagogic principles I use in face to face but realising that while there are many tools (and many of these are useful) I do not need to use all of them, all of the time. In addition, having identified that some learners are engaging asynchronously, it is important that my design includes them too. Some things work, some things not so much. I realised that online, everything seems to take slightly longer. Two hours goes by like its 30 minutes but after the session I feel like I have been at it for 4 hours…lol! How to find a balance between responding to chats in a room with 150 people and delivering, try toggling between ‘chats on and off’ or shut down the notifications. Ask the students what works best and keep an open mind. I am still trying to find the right balance between in class and independent activities and the best tools for engagement in class but I have noticed these days that with most breathes come the mantra to ‘Keep it simple and fail forward.’

Doing starts with being – This took me back to thinking about the best teachers I have had the good fortune of meeting over my studies and career. They may not always have had the slickest slides or the most polished presentations, but there were other, more valuable (to me anyway) things they had in common. They always had a passion for their subject, were patient and creative in explaining difficult concepts and more importantly made me feel I mattered. In a highly metric driven, performance-oriented space that HE has become, it can be easy to forget that at the heart of education and learning are people. Educators, professional service providers and learners, all working together towards a common purpose. Human imperfect beings who are (mostly) doing their best. Yes, I found a way to bring it back to community. Strong communities identify their core values and try their best to live these out in practice. Sometimes in all our learning about how to ‘do’ things differently online, I hope we do not forget to ‘be’. To do good things starts from being good. In these times we have found ourselves, we need to be kind, compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic…to ourselves and then to others.I have received so many kind messages from my students this year, more than I can remember in previous years. At the end of sessions, many students post a Thank you in the chat before leaving the classroom.  In a meeting with my personal tutee last week, she shared that her anxiety at starting University as a mature student was reduced by what she called ‘my positive attitude.’ I was not even aware of what I may have said or did that supported her arriving at that conclusion.  We are all living (teaching, learning, working) in a pandemic. We should not forget this. I think all students starting this year are heroes. I am not sure if I could display some of the resilience I have seen over the last few weeks when I was at the stage of my studies.. Whether we are sending emails or setting deadlines, we should not forget. We should give the compassion we would like to receive. On my to do list is to find spaces and networks that top up my wellbeing. It is hard to exhibit empathy for a student or colleague when you are stressed and running on empty. I have a lot of work to do on my ‘being.’

So, there it is, a few lessons from a few weeks. Although physically tired, I do feel slightly mentally stronger than at the start of the academic year with. I am hopeful for what the next few weeks have in store and will be back to share them. Please do share how your teaching (or learning) has been progressing online. Let us learn from each other.

About our writer – Dr Amara Anyogu is a widening participation educator with expertise in developing and leading Foundation year programmes to support successful transitions into Higher Education for all students. She is a microbiologist with research interests in food safety and security issues. This includes antimicrobial resistance in the food chain, harnessing microbial diversity for food production and the microbiology of food spoilage. A firm believer in the benefits of mentoring in building a successful career, she is the Co-Founder of the Aspiring Professionals Hub, a professional development resource for successful early career professionals. She is also the Co-Convenor of the Nigerian Applied Microbiologists network, a platform for developing research collaborations and mentoring a new generation of scientists. She tweets @intentionalacad.

Plagiarism: Mischief-making, Poor Scholarship or Ignorance?

Rewind, 25-30 years ago, no global internet, no responsive search engines, no searchable databases and very few had access to learning materials, academic papers, thesis and textbooks. Then, if you had an assessment, you used a physical library, read old books and wrote assessments within the limitations of your educational environment and infrastructure. Fast forward to 2020, now we are all learning virtually, the internet is global, even in the most hard-to-reach areas and education is becoming universal.

One thing has not changed within that timeline; poor scholarship and sometimes mischief-making in the classroom/learning environment. This poor scholarship and mischief-making is the focus of this article today and is known as Plagiarism in education, academic and publishing settings.

Plagiarism has been defined as “presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.” University of Oxford (link)


Synonyms of plagiarism. Source (

Plagiarism this phenomenon is almost as old as I can remember and is usually known by different terms depending on where you are in the world e.g. exam malpractice, cheating, dubbing, being smart etc. I first encountered this term during my first degree and I realised how serious this act is how severe the consequences can be. In some environments (no name calling here), these behaviours were/are enabled by poor academic quality in an institution, lack of tools to verify cheating, stealing or creative transference of someone’s work presenting as the work of another. Some of us might be all too aware of the “handout” or “small textbook” culture in some academic institutions in the world.

These are text re-packaged from the efforts of others with no acknowledgement of the original sources. This is plagiarism, dishonest and frankly illegal behaviour. Why do people plagiarise? There are many reasons why this happens and the University of Nottingham lists several reasons why students and people generally do this (see full article here)

  • Bad time management skills
  • Unable to cope with the work load
  • “The tutor doesn’t care, why should I?”
  • External pressure to succeed
  • Lack of understanding
  • “I can’t do this!”
  • “I want to see if I can get away with it”
  • “I don’t need to learn this, I only need to pass it”
  • “But you said work together!”
  • “But that would insult the experts in the field

Perhaps, you might recognise some of the phrases or reasons among this list and it is important to recognise that plagiarism is not always international however irrespective of the intentionality, recklessness or naivety; it is a disciplinary offence University of Oxford (link).

What is the impact and what are the penalties?
Evidence shows that students who plagiarise, cheat or commit an academic offence always believe they can get away without consequences. These days it is much harder to cheat or plagiarised submitted work. This is something that has also impacted people outside education including writers, politicians, researchers etc.

Some of the examples of the real life consequences of plagiarism include

  • Guttenberg plagiarism scandal refers to the German defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg who had copied large sections of work for his research without attribution or citing the work in 2007. This led to him resigning from his position and he was also stripped of his PhD (Columbia College, Canada: link)
  • In Korea’s Summer of Plagiarism, a blog article written by Jonathan Bailey (link), there were several cases of plagiarism, which included authors, Minister of Health, several government officials leading to calls for reform in the publishing industry.
  • Newspaper editor at the New York Daily News was fired for plagiarising parts from another article published in another newspaper The Daily Beast (link)

These are just some examples and just a quick online search would reveal many cases and examples. Academics have lost jobs for plagiarised work, Vice-Chancellors dragged before court, authors taken to court and lost revenue, with some facing jail time for work they plagiarised 20, 30 years in the past. This highlights the importance of doing your own work, acknowledging the work of others, learning good scholarship and staying away from trouble.

What is the impact for students?
For students, the consequences of plagiarism include: reduction of assessment marks, failure on course component, damaged reputation, poor job references, failure of an academic year, ejection from the course or the University or College. The consequences can go from light to very severe.

Very often, students who plagiarise or commit academic offense fail to realise the impact can be wider than what happens in school, college or University. You could be refused a job if you’ve been found to plagiarise in College or University. You could also be refused formal references from previous tutors or mentors etc.

These might appear harsh, however, do ask yourself, would you be pleased to be attended to by a doctor, a nurse, dentist or surgeon if you found out they cheated their way through college?

In addition, if you found out your boss at work, the Director of your organisation or the person who decides your promotion or future at work is only in their position because they cheated their way through their degree. I bet you would see that as a travesty! Therefore, the consequences are usually greater than the act in itself.

How do you avoid plagiarising or committing an academic offence?
In an article Avoiding Plagiarism by the University of Leicester’s Student Learning Development Centre, several steps have been suggested (Read the full article here)

  • Fully reference and acknowledge the work of others
  • Use your own words and develop your own writing style
  • Organise and structure your work in your own way
  • Don’t be afraid to express your own views

Several Universities provide plagiarism-checking software for students to check essay submissions, reports, thesis and other academic work for poor academic writing, poor citations or elements of unacknowledged work. Some examples of these tools include Turnitin, Blackboard SafeAssign etc. you can also find some free software online including examples like Grammarly.

Where can you find help or advice?
The links provided in this article or any good University would have free advice on how you can avoid plagiarism and there are many examples you can learn from with scenarios. It would be really, valuable to embed yourself in this activity especially now if you are a student or researcher with little knowledge of this. We will share articles on good writing and good academic writing on the hub soon however if you are new to academic writing, you can start with our previous article

Better still get in touch with us on any of our social media platforms or by email at

So, every time you are faced with any writing, academic or non-academic, remember these steps

  • Read widely
  • Understand the concepts and context
  • Use your own words, do not copy and paste
  • Cite and acknowledge any and every author you have referenced.
  • Use a plagiarism checker
  • Smile

This article was written by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu (Tweets @EmmanuelAdukwu). He is a leading academic at a UK University with significant experience supporting students at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level. He is also the co-creator of the Aspiring Professionals Hub. If you enjoyed reading the article, do leave a comment at the bottom of this article. Also, don’t forget to appreciate the efforts by following our pages on InstagramTwitter and Facebook. Thank you.

If you have enjoyed reading this article. At APH, we pride ourselves with making accessible information to a wide community of readers globally for FREE and we welcome new writers and content from readers and writers from all over the world. If you have a story to tell or you would like to write for us, get in touch at

#APHGradForum – Seven Steps To Enable you Prepare your First Lecture


This was the statement made by a friend of mine who was invited to deliver her first lecture on an important but sensitive lecture topic. This feeling is not uncommon amongst early career academics. Unlike professionals developing their careers in primary and secondary school teaching who tend to be more prepared having gone through teacher training, for those going into lecturing in academia, your training comes on the job, usually after you have started teaching!  In many cases, after completing a Masters degree or a PhD/postdoc,  you could land your first lecture invitation. So what should you keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation? The handy tips below will give you a good starting point.

STEP ONE – Find the guidebook: The first bit of research you’ll need to do if you are about to teach at University, college or school is the curriculum. At University, this will the course/module specification. Here it will  be important for you to know what the anticipated learning outcomes are for the students within the year group. What type of assessment(s) have been designed for the course? How does the topic you are about to lecture on connect with the learning outcomes and assessment? Do you have the skills to deliver this material?

Blogging Q and A – A Writing workshop for Early Career Scientists

EDI.jpgLast week, Amara and I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with other blogging “experts” at the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) summer conference at Edinburgh to chat all things blogging with a group of early career scientists… Edinburgh itself is a really good welcoming city, with great sights to see and lots to do and if you are a big fan of shopping, well, you might quite like it..oh and the scottish shortbread biscuits..enough said there!!..

The conversation about blogging was varied and went from the simple to quite complex. I’d like to share some of the questions which were asked and responses from the session and for the benefit of our readers, some extra useful information Enjoy reading!

Starting from the basics, what is a blog?

There are different definitions of what a blog is – according to the Oxford dictionaries, a blog is “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style.” Blogging can be formal or informal –  blogging can be as simple as having an online diary where you share your thoughts or experiences on a regular or irregular basis (whatever is convenient for you) or it could be something much bigger e.g. blogs run by University departments, biopharma companies sharing information with shareholders and consumers or simple trivia blogs with lots of fun things. In effect, a blog could be whatever you want it to be and that is what makes blogging an exciting and often rewarding activity.

I have a personal blog, is there a space for it out there and how do I grow it?

#MyUniStory – Making the most of opportunities as an international student

StudyChatIn today’s study chat, Amara shares her discussion with Cynthia Ochoga, the President Elect of the Student Union at the University of Salford. Cynthia shares from her perspective as an international student and offers advice on managing the opportunities and challenges within Higher Education to maximise your experience. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

CO: My educational pursuit began at Home Science Nursery and Primary School, Ikoyi Lagos. In 1998, I moved on to Queens’ College Lagos for my secondary school education.

In 2006, I attended the University of Lagos where I undertook a diploma in Cell Biology and Genetics. By second year it became apparent to me that science was not a field I wanted to pursue and then left Nigeria to Middlesex University (MDX) Mauritius campus in 2010 and studied Psychology and Counselling. In 2014, I went to Oxford Brookes University and did a conversion to Law degree (GDL) as my 2nd degree and in September 2015, I came to University of Salford for my MSc in Media Psychology and I’m half way through it at the moment.

I have worked in a number of different roles too. My first job was a three-month internship at Action Health Incorporated. In 2010, prior to moving to Mauritius, I followed my passion in journalism and worked as an intern at a radio station in Nigeria.

While studying at MDX, I was elected president of the International Students’ Society for Mauritius campus. I also joined AIESEC, an international youth development organization and rose to become Vice President of External Relations which I did simultaneously with my role as President. In the final year of my undergraduate degree, I worked for a month with the Mauritius Institute of Directors as part of a team that delivered an international conference.

After graduation, I went to Nigeria to participate in the NYSC programme. Since then, I have worked with BBC Media City as a research assistant for Mozfest 2015. I have also worked in a customer services role for Doddles Parcels in Manchester. I recently resigned to take some time out to prepare to take on my new role as the President of the Student Union at the University of Salford.

You started out your Higher Education journey in the Biological sciences, what spurred the switch to Psychology? Was it a smooth transition?

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