Episode 5: Fran Garrad-Cole on getting students to run a marathon with innovative pedagogy
The Teach Learn Collaborate Repeat podcast is a teaching and learning podcast hosted by Talis. We’ll be talking teaching and tech with experts from across higher education.
In this episode, Matt East from Talis talks to Dr Fran Garrad-Cole about her optional module where through teaching theories on motivational psychology, goal setting, self-determinism and resilience, they finish the course by running a marathon.
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Matt: Hi and welcome to the Teach Learn Collaborate Repeat podcast. My name is Matt East. I’m Education Lead here at Talis and today I am delighted to introduce a new series around innovative pedagogy. I’m joined today by Dr. Fran Garrad-Cole, Fran is a deputy head of school from Bangor University who teaches in psychology. Fran is also a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of Advanced He and a member of the Central Teaching and Learning Team (CELT) at Bangor. Fran, thank you so much for coming to talk about one of my favorite topics running.
Fran: You’re very welcome. Nice to see you.
Matt: So, the module! Tell us about what you’ve done.
Fran: Okay, so this is a year three module, which we offer to our students who take any of our psychology degrees and also optional modules within the psychology suite of modules, and basically, we take students who aren’t really runners, you know, we expect them to be able to run about 3 to 5k, before the module begins, and that’s in the January. And through the course of a 12-week module and the holidays in between, 18 weeks in total, we teach them theories of motivational psychology, goal setting, self-determinism, resilience, and alongside to achieve a goal that they thought they could never possibly achieve. And in this instance, it is to run a marathon. So over 18 weeks, we take them from non-runner to marathon runner, and we do it with them. And then we all go run a marathon at the end.
Matt: See, I just absolutely love this. I just think it’s such a great way to bring sort of theory into practice in so many ways. And actually, what I’d really like to explore with you is like if the why so what like, why did you decide to establish something kind of as unique as this for this module and what I’m waiting for this module as well.
Fran: So it kind of came about through a few different things. I had just started running. I’ve done a bit of a jog around the block before then, but I just started trying to increase my mileage. And I’ve met some friends of mine and family of mine who I would never really have thought were proper runners, and they just sort of casually dropped into conversation, I’m off to do a half marathon or I’m training for a marathon, you think, jeepers real people can do these things. And so I started extending my running. And I’d set myself the goal of doing a half marathon. And on that journey, I realised that running, particularly, is something that you improve really quickly. And it’s really rewarding and reinforcing to see that, you know, suddenly you can run four kilometers or five kilometers, and you can set your sights on a 10k. And it kind of improves quite quickly. And I’m reasonably impatient. So that was quite good for me. So I was running myself, and that was improving. At the same time, I was supporting some of our students through a different program at Bangor about oral presentations. So our students have to give or be part of oral presentation sessions every week, and occasionally have to give their own talks. And so I was working with students who have anxiety. And they used to say to me, I don’t do presentations, because I have anxiety. And I’d say you don’t do them yet. And I’d set them lots and lots of sort of micro goals and small steps towards the bigger goal of being able to give a talk. And I kind of realised I was there sort of putting them outside their comfort zone each week making them do more and more. And I thought I really ought to apply this to myself and kind of push myself out of my comfort zone a bit more. So that was all kind of happening at the same time. And then my husband bought me a book for Christmas one year, which was the non-runners marathon trainer. And in that, there was a module that been put on in America, but specifically to teach students how to run without necessarily the psychology. And then I foolishly mentioned this to our then Head of School Professor John Parkinson, who is himself has an extremely keen Ultra runner, and fell runner. And I said, can you imagine we should put a module together, we should teach them, you know, how goal setting and motivation and how to overcome obstacles. And we could like apply it to them learning to run and increase the distance and get them to do a half marathon. And he just said, yep, let’s do it. And I said, I’m only joking. And he said let’s do it. And he goes, but a full marathon, not a half marathon. And I was like I said, What do you mean? And he said, come on Fran, go hard or go home. So that’s become the kind of a module motto. So that’s where it began. And so once I’ve got John on board, we then started throwing ideas around and then module kind of grew from there, really.
Matt: So one of the things I kind of like to explore a bit more really with you is that the underlying metaphor that exists within the module, you’ve touched on things like goal setting, and goal orientation, and I guess overcoming perceived physical mental challenges. But you know, this does align with obviously, a degree is part of it, it’s part of the course. So can you just talk to us a bit about how you’ve kind of connected the psychology element with the activity running? Can you expand on that a bit more?
Fran: Yeah, sure. So these students who are taking this module are typically year three students. So they will have either completed our BSc Psychology or one of our psychology degrees or one of the ‘with’ degrees that have taken some psychology modules. So as part of that they’ve already covered BPS core content like Personality and Individual differences. And in those modules, they find out you know, why, why would I respond in a certain situation differently from you, or why can some people do certain things and other people feel that they can’t. Anxiety, experience, those sorts of things. And so come year three, we really want to see students not just kind of critically evaluate theories that they’re being told, but we want to see them, apply them and draw them together. And this platform, this module gives them this really nice experience for them to really apply those theories personally to themselves and bring them to life. So in the first week or two of the module, John does a lecture, based on his own research area on self-determination, theory and motivation, and goal setting. And we could teach that really dry as a theory and ask them to write something back and evaluate it in an essay. But actually getting them to set a goal and then recognising how to do that and how they might not do that. And what they need to do to reset goals, actually, through a personal experience kind of brings it to life in a much better way, I think, than just asking them to write an essay.
Matt: We’re talking, we’re talking a huge amount across the sector at the moment, aren’t we on experiential learning and kind of authentic assessment? And to me, this just galvanizes so much of what is really important in education in such a, for me, in such an exciting way. Can we actually talk a little bit about what every week looks like? What did the course actually look like? How did it how did it run? How did you facilitate it?
Fran: Okay, so myself, John, and another guy called Dr. Ross Roberts, who is in sports science at Bangor, we got together and kind of worked out what we thought we ought to tell them in order to run a marathon, what do you need to know? So there are very physiological practical aspects of running a marathon. And when you start running past about 10k, I’m sure you know, Matt, you need to start talking about hydration and nutrition and chafing, and kit and recovery, these sorts of things. So there’s that side of things. But obviously, this is a psychology module. So we had to be really clear that the content that they were going to be learning and being assessed on would be psychology. So the structure of the week is, it’s normally Monday, Tuesday. So on a Monday morning, we have a lecture. So we have a two-hour lecture. And that’s either given by myself, by John Parkinson, by Ross or one of the other in-house lecturers, or by an external guest lecturer. And that is on psychology, content and theories. And we try not to talk too much about actual running in that although by way of example, quite often, we do talk about running, but we try and sort of develop it and give other examples as well of how those theories apply to challenges and goal setting and drive and the rest of it. So that’s just a lecture. And then on the Tuesday we meet up all dress for running. And we do an hour, which we call a clinic or a seminar clinic. And we’ll talk about you know, have you got the right footwear, who’s got a running belt? What gels are you trying, you know, how do you manage when you’ve got an out and back run, and it’s really boring. So we talk about actual the nuts and bolts of running. And then we all go for a run together. So the students themselves are set, we give them a suite of different marathon training plans that they can look at. And I give them the one that I tend to use and the merits of different ones, they then have to set their own based around their weekly activity anyway, so some of them already training for the rugby team, or gymnastics, or swimming or whatever. And so we sort of show them how they can switch in different activities in a marathon plan. But we all expect them all to come for a run on Tuesday morning with us and we go off around Bangor doesn’t matter what the weather is. We’ve had the first run in hail and snow before now and it’s been horrendous. This week, we did a beautiful run down through the Vale estate. And next week, we’re going out to the Slate quarry. So they get to see a bit of the area. But we actually go out on a physical run together on the Tuesday. So that’s each week that way, and then quite often we’ll get guest runners in on the Tuesday seminar. So we’ve had Russell Bennett, we’ve had Rob Samuel, we’ve had lots of really quite high profile runners come in and past students have come back now and shared those experiences, which has been really nice.
Matt: What does the assessment look like?
Fran: So the assessments, so they do this 50% is awarded for blogs, and 50% is for an essay at the end. So there’s no exams, we do tell them as a joke on week one that depending on what time they get in the marathon will determine their grade. But obviously, we’re mucking around. Blogs, they do a blog every other week. So every two weeks, they do a blog. And the idea is they’re supposed to discuss some of the theories that they’ve been taught and apply it to their running, but they do it in a public format. So they have to have citations and hyperlinks to pages of information, but we make it public partly because then you’re accountable. Like a lot about goal setting is about being accountable. So if you tell someone, you’re gonna run a marathon, put it out there, tell people and then you’re more likely to achieve your goal. So actually, by making their blogs public so that their friends and family can follow the journey. It allows them to sort of diarise their experience, and I’m really hoping that they’ll look back on it when they finish and think God, this is where I came from, but they did they talk about the theories, you know, they then sort of encouraged them to recreate the diagrams of the theories but apply it to their running so sort of annotated with this was me at 5k or the wheels fell off at 6k or whatever and put their experiences in it and how they use the theories to help themselves, images. So there’s no word length, I don’t care how long it is, it can be as long as short as you like. They do not have references, I don’t care if it’s in APA format, they can use first person, I don’t mind the tone of the language, that’s fine. So they do that every two weeks and those blogs are graded really quickly. So I turned them around within a couple of days and they all graded the same grading scheme. So then they get their feedback and they see how to improve for the next one. So each blog is worth 10%. But they’re also offered a bonus blog. So they can then replace the lowest grade because they do tend to improve, obviously, over time, they can replace their lowest grade with a bonus blog. So that’s that half. And then the other 50% is an essay. And like, they said to me, just this week, you know, what’s the title, I said, well, you can choose your title. But what I want you to write, and they have got a word limit is APA format for this because it’s a formal essay, is kind of a handbook for their own success. So why don’t you write an essay, they’ve looked at all these theories, I now want them to write something that would be useful for them to look back on in the future if they want to set themselves another challenging goal. So there are lots of theories about how people can achieve things, how they can motivate themselves, you know, how they can be successful. But did those particular theories work for you? Which ones worked for you, which ones really didn’t play out for you. And so I want them to sort of write their pathway to success. So that’s that essays, they have to kind of talk about how, you know, Joe Bloggs will be successful.
Matt: So to summarise that there’s a very, very reflective patchwork exercise, really,
Fran: Definitely reflective. I mean, and again, everything we do in the academic sphere, sort of mirrors how you achieve something physically challenging, you know, reflections, really important. Looking at feedback is really important. You know, if you don’t, if you do a run, it doesn’t go as well as you want, or you were aiming for a time and you were too rigid about it, and you didn’t get it you disappointed? How do you deal with your emotions about that, like, all of that is applicable to academic work. And by extension to the real world, when you go, when you go out to work, you know, all these things they’re learning are really important for self development for developing resilience.
Matt: There’s also I guess, an interesting (I’m geeking out a little bit now) but there’s also an interesting sight of this around data now, isn’t there? I mean, you know, psychologists, you know, studying psychology, you’re using a lot of data in some of the testing and evaluation you’re doing with older data now in a watch and I can imagine there’s a whole other module you could do there around that. But you know, I digress. I’m sure I know the answer to this already. But it’s student feedback. What do students say about it?
Fran: Yeah, they love it, they have to say, and sounds like a big soapbox thing. But they do. I mean, they sort of said, I mean, I’ve got one of the things up here, because I thought you might ask this, what did one of them say it was their favorite module of the whole three years or something, it was the most relevant module. And it’s taught me more about myself than I’ve ever learned, you know, that, that I’ve learned the last three years or something like that. And I think that’s the thing, this module forces you to look at yourself, you can’t hide, you can’t hide from the fact that you’re a bit lazy, or you tend not to turn up or, you know, you promised your mate, you go for a run that you didn’t, can’t hide from that. And it’s the interesting stuff about data. So at some point during the module, but week seven, or eight, week six, they will run a half marathon, so they haven’t run at all. And the whole lot of them go and do Anglesey, half marathon, which is incredible, this, I’m so proud of them, when they do that, it’s brilliant. Because they really don’t know if they can, they really don’t know. And then they realize they can and they’re just like, it’s so emotional, it’s the best day ever, anyway, so they’ve done that, then little after that, they tend to sort of drop off their training a bit. And then I do present a graph of their Strava data. So I can because we’ve all got a running group in Strava together. And so I track how long their longest run should have been by this point, and how many runs if they’re doing for a week they should have done, and then I plot all their data points on a scatterplot against the one that’s supposed to do. And I’m like, that’s where you should be. This is where you all are, come on up your game sort of thing. So we do use data like that at them.
Matt: Great. Well, I mean, that’s awesome. And can I just say, I mean, it’s seeing how excited you are being and animated about this is infectious. You know, this is why I really wanted to share this story. So it’s just, you know, it’s great. Look Fran, let’s touch a bit more on the kind of the space of innovative pedagogy, because I think, for many, you know, I’ve spoken about this a few times at a few events, and it can be quite scary and daunting for many academics to try something new. And I kind of want to, I’d like to encourage you to kind of reflect on, you know, what you’ve done what you do differently in a few questions. And I guess one of the starting points for me is around alignment. And how did you align the goals of the modules back to I guess, the core learning outcomes, really, so that, you know, whatever you did, it could be running, swimming, rugby, whatever, still actually achieving those learning outcomes, which, you know, the PSRB will have some involvement in I’m sure.
Fran: Yeah. So the program level outcome, you know, that the BPS sets our curricula for to psychology, and within that, you know, understand the individual differences, application of, you know, theories of practicalities, all of that is in there. And so it kind of it picks up on lots of different aspects of what we aim to provide our students with a program level. But yeah, I suppose I didn’t really design it with that in mind, it sort of inevitably is that I suppose, you know, I’ve been teaching psychology a very long time. You know, I am a psychologist, because I love psychology. And that’s the way I think that’s the way I do things. And it kind of, it sort of came about quite iteratively without trying to fit it to something, I suppose and I guess that’s probably a good starting point for innovation. This made me think about what you want rather than how you’re going to get there.
Matt: Okay, so as you, let’s just touch on advice, like, you know, if I’m, I’m an academic, and I want I know I’m doing a module and I can see the students aren’t engaging what I want to try something new. I want to rethink this, and I want to do something that’s really exciting and exciting to other people. But what advice would you give someone who’s exploring that?
Fran: Yeah. So I mean, the easy bit we had that this was it was a new module. So we created it from scratch. But yeah, I think the same process would probably apply is, is think about what you want, what do you want them to be able to do? At the end of it? You know, what, what do you value as a skill that you think they should be able to do through this content or through this experience? And then work backwards from that. I mean, Sally Brown is really big on this, you know, set the outcomes, and then work back from the learning outcomes, how do you then achieve that? So thinking quite practically, about what should they be able to actually do by the end of this? And then how can you do it and there’s lots of different routes to the same end game.
Matt: Sorry I cut you off. I think a couple of things: I spoke a practical pedagogy event, or chaired it, in the summer, where we were we had a session on innovative pedagogy and a couple of the things that came out from that were really related to base around something you’re also passionate about. So spoke to one colleague from Cardiff, who had designed a whole course around immunology, but basically all around Star Wars, because he was obsessed with Star Wars and would completely admit that and I just thought it was brilliant than, as I’ve just described, of your your play, it’s sort of interesting your passion around this, that is infectious that will help students become far more animated and far more engaged. So that’s one piece I would recommend is basically around your own kind of love and desires, you know, beyond the subject matter where applicable. But also find your tribe is something that someone has said to me before. And I guess you kind of had your tribe by the colleagues that you were you were working with. But I think that for me, that’s really important as well, you know, the things that you’re trying to do. May Yeah, maybe slightly outside of the box, but you’re not the only one who’s trying to do stuff outside the box. So finding like minded individuals who can encourage you and inspire you is is a really, really crucial component of something like this, is that fair to say?
Fran: I think it is, I was just thinking as you’re speaking then that, you know, even if you were to innovate, just the way in which you do something which I’ve done in my other modules, I’ve tried to flip learning, we’ve done student led learning, poster conferences, whatever, to do something like that, if you don’t really believe in it, or you know, you haven’t got the energy for it, it’s impossible you’ve got, you’ve got to really want it to work, you’ve got to be the one, the one fool in the room who thinks it’s going to work, basically. And then just like, keep telling everyone how brilliant it’s going to be. And then eventually, hopefully, they’ll come along with you, and it works along the way. But quite often, I have all these amazing, brilliant ideas, and then they realise, oh, it’s not going to work. But I’m at the end of the game before I realised that because I’m still completely convinced it’s gonna be brilliant. But you’ve got to have that energy for the thing you’re doing because it is harder work. It’s definitely harder to innovate things in the first iteration than to just deliver the lecture you’ve already got. And we’re all time pressured, you know, we all think we’re gonna have the summer to fix things, then you realise deadlines were earlier than you thought. I know, we spoke about this before. But you know, it is hard work to innovate things. But the way to make that less hard work is actually to make it something you’re you’re passionate about. And actually, I’ve done a talk years ago about this. And I think I entitled my my talk, combining my hobby with work or something like how can I how can I keep running during my working week?
Matt: Squeezing and extra run during work time? Genius. A couple of things. I was going to start bringing this to a close, but actually, iteration is a question I should have asked earlier. So how has this evolved, how’s this module changed and evolved over the you say three or four years you’ve been delivering it now?
Fran: This will be the sixth year. It will six years since we started with so we didn’t deliver it at all last year. And the pandemic year in the year that ended 2020 we delivered it but the marathon was canceled. So it’s just so so so it has evolved and changed over time. The thing that’s changed most is my age. I am older and more injured than I was when I began and a little bit less enthusiastic about spending several months doing really long runs on Sundays. But the first year we did it, I had never run a marathon. So I was absolutely walking shoulder to shoulder with these students. As we went through the process. John was really quite experienced as a runner. So we brought a really nice dynamic of two quite different perspectives to it. That was the first year and we paid for the students marathon entry as part of a student experience fund that we had that year, which was great. So we all went we all did the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon together, which is incredible. It was brilliant. And the next year I think we did the same and then the year after that, I think we didn’t have the funding so they bought their own places. And then then a couple of years were out for the pandemic. Some of them had the places deferred from 2020. They did them in the October which is pretty nice. And then this year that Liverpool Rock and Roll has been canceled, which is devastating. It was the perfect timing in the perfect event. But it’s an it’s obviously quite near to Bangor. But that’s been cancelled. So this year, they’ve all gone to find their own marathons around the country back in their hometown. So one of them is doing Exeter on the 15th, quite a lot of them doing Windermere on the 22nd. So it’s changed in that sense, I’ve got older, and therefore actually, this year, for the first year, we brought some postgraduate assistants on to go for some of the runs. Because you know, John is now Dean of College. So he’s less available to sort of be hands on with the teaching, although he does still come into his guest lectures. But the pressure for me to have to be the one to run with them every Tuesday, I’ve had a really bad hamstring injury, we’ve got these postgraduates in so they kind of take over when I can’t do it, which has been brilliant. So that’s an evolution, the content has broadly stayed the same, the order changes and tweaks a little bit. But what we’ve done this year that I think is going to ensure the longevity of this module properly, is our school has just recently merged with the School of sports science. So you know, we’re much more closely aligned with with with the lectures from that side of our school now. And so we’ve brought, you really have expertise in some of these areas, and really bolstered the teaching team around the module. So actually, I think having that team means this will continue now without – I was a bit worried that it might end because you know, everyone’s moving on to different things and getting older. But I think it’s got a real life being breathed into it. And some of the students who have taken the module or done PhDs with John in the past, have now come back, and they now teach on the module or guest lecture, which is, which is really fantastic.
Matt: So let’s round this off. What’s next?
Fran: For me, or for the module?
Matt: For both? No let’s go for the module by you doing another module like this, if you’ve got you got another, like, big idea for something you want to you want to do? Um, have you thought about?
Fran: Yes, I have. I’m not sure it’ll come to fruition. And I’ll tell you about it offline. But the module will keep going. So the module will carry on next year. Again, I think we might open up to more students, we kind of capped it at 20 students previously, because I wanted to keep that sort of community. You know, because on the seminars, we really share quite a lot about our running experiences. Sure, you know, not all of it’s lovely to hear. So we can, you know, keep an nice small group together. And the marking, I can turn the marking around quite quickly. But I think I think I might expand the numbers because it’s always maxed out. And there’s always a waiting list. And even just yesterday, I have staff saying to me, Oh, can I can I come and sit in your module? Can I come into your module? You know, I really want to run a marathon. So we talked about that. We’ve also talked about possibly putting on a Bangor University marathon somehow in Bangor at that time year. Yeah, well, why not? You know, is a really great student experience opportunity.
Matt: Just to just to give an idea why can’t you know work with some students in Business modules?
Fran: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, business and marketing.
Matt: Sports, experiential learning on steroids. Bad things to say when we’re talking about athletics, uh, you know, I can’t really say much more positivity about this, this module, we’re just for me, it sounds like you know, such a great example again of experiential learning. But it’s clear that your passion is driving a lot of this and you know, I really hope that you know, others can, can can take some inspirations and you know, some thoughts from from everything you’ve done and share. So thank you very much.
Fran: No problem, see you soon!