In her own words…

Introducing Debbie Holley – ANTF committee member and Professor of Learning Innovation at Bournemouth University

Life takes us along unexpected paths, and I am thoroughly delighted that mine has brought me to work with fantastic educators at the ANTF. Many of us are inspired by a teacher that taught us, I was a very average student at an ex-polytechnic until I met David Stewart-David – a specialist in transport. In his class I was introduced to authentic assessment challenges; collaborative problem-based learning approaches, and working with peers from industry. What a difference to the usual death by (overhead projector) at the time!

It led to me taking my professional qualifying exams alongside my final degree. This was an early example of graduating with a degree as well as a professional award. I achieved Fellowship of the Institute of Logistics and Transport, and a first career step as a graduate trainee at Pickford’s Removals. I remained in industry for most of the following decade; until my ex-tutor David contacted me and said the then Polytechnic of North London were looking for a female transport manager to give a talk to their day-release students.

It was wonderful to have a career change and teach logistics, purchasing and supply chain management. I had the ‘bug’! I absolutely loved working with my mature learners, and started develop materials to share online, as many were shift workers, and not always able to attend in person. Industry collaborations have always floated my boat – I loved the ‘A day in the life of a 3D warehouse’ project.

Every day is a challenge working with learners! I have now taught students in Further Education, Higher Education, Industry; on Undergraduate, Masters, Doctoral programmes; online, blended, flipped, distance learning, and really enjoyed my time as the PGCert programme leader at two institutions. My colleagues say I light up on teaching days…

What was a difficult teaching experience? Inheriting business studies as a unit leader for 1,000 students. The poor students were packed in 200/250 at a time to a huge lecture theatre. By week 5 we were down to 50 as the students voted with their feet. It was a fabulous opportunity to undertake a transformational change management project and to change the whole unit delivery – we moved to a blended approach, scaffolded all the learning online, and based it on a visit to the Tate Modern on London’s South Bank.

The culture change was not only the revamped programme – but many students had never visited a museum before. Looking back, I have come round in a circle, and in different contexts, modelled exemplary practice that engages and motivates students. My research and teaching have always been interwoven, so I don’t agree that researchers ‘always’ play ‘all the good tunes’…one piece of advice for my younger self? Innovate and experiment – the students would far rather we try and fail, than not even make the effort…being an NTF means you have a contact list like no other! A wonderful, helpful, supportive community who willing share, support, empathise and unfailing put their learners first – I am proud to be one of you.


These days Debbie is working on the educational affordances of mixed reality, and can usually be found behind a pair of google cardboard glasses


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