Shafina Vohra, Research Postgraduate, Dyson School of Design Engineering

“My study is looking at hands-on learning in education and whether this enhances teaching and learning.” 

My freelance graphic design experience in the Middle East turned into curiosity about what happens in the brain in creative people, and this led me to completing a BSc in Psychology. After publishing my undergraduate dissertation as a research fellow, I turned to training as a teacher at the Institute of Education at UCL shortly after and fell in love with educating. I never wanted to become a teacher and dreaded the thought of teaching teenagers! But little did I know that one day, the very teens I taught would become the centre of my world.    

I became a Certified Lego Education Teacher Trainer in Denmark which led to wonderful opportunities such as giving keynotes, doing workshops in Vietnam, Italy and Mexico to share how I teach, plus TEDxTalks, podcasts and events relating to EdTech. Naturally, my methods in teaching led to my interest in wanting to study learning scientifically. Now, here I am at the AMAZING Dyson School of Design Engineering pursuing a part-time PhD looking at creativity and learning.   

Alongside my PhD, I teach A-level Psychology and I am Lego Lead at my  workplaceHaving been Faculty and Continuous Professional Learning lead has strengthened my teaching and learning mindset. I hope to be the change maker to drive real, positive change in education so I combine my research in pedagogy with my pedagogic practice. I developed our Innovation programme at my workplace where I train students from the ages of 14-18 to become Lego ambassadors in education and they design, develop and then deliver workshops to primary schools in London. This has been done successfully on a remote basis during COVID-19. I also train teachers so they can develop newer approaches to teaching across the curriculum.   

When I was in the midst of designing my pilot study for my PhD, we entered lockdown and so I had to redesign it for online purposes. My study is looking at hands-on learning in education and whether this enhances teaching and learning. As data rolls in, I’m witnessing amazing contributions from students globally telling me about their projects! This study enables me to further investigate learning which will be conducted in schools in the new year.   

I enjoyed the online weekly departmental Design Hotel meet-ups as these were fun, fruitful and really helped us to stay connected. To keep things going we used Teams, Slack for communication and I used Qualtrics for my online study which has been great. The online courses have also been fantastically delivered with the Graduate School and supervisory meetings have also been very supportive.   

I found it very strange working from home and not interacting with my students and being able to do my Lego work. I love to teach in person and I have a fantastic relationship with colleagues and students. Not having that impacted my levels of motivation to work altogether. I found I was working more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and this led to me needing to put my brakes on so I could manage my PhD too.    

To get myself back to normality I make sure I watch my favourite movies (Star Wars, Goonies, Back to the Future, Short Circuit, Big, Lord of the Rings). I go for walks, play with my cats much more (it’s therapy!) and make sure I am very productive during work hours so I can have the evening to myself.  

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