One Innovator’s Journey using the 4Cs Dissemination Strategy—A Personal Narrative

Associate Professor Lynn Gribble SFHEA CMALT
UNSW Business School

image of author

As the 4Cs Dissemination Strategy (Gribble & Beckmann, 2023) is a person-centred approach to dissemination, it is best illustrated through a personal reflective narrative that provides specific examples of my experiences in using this structured approach to sharing my innovations in using technologies to maximise student learning. 

In the Classroom

I am currently teaching fully online courses with enrolments of 1,500, but in my career have taught—and found equally enjoyable—first-year undergraduate courses with more than 2400 students as well as specialised courses of 50 students. My students are diverse not only in their demographic and linguistic/cultural backgrounds, but also in what Bourdieu (1986) might have termed their ‘learning capital’. After my first online teaching experience, many years ago, I realised that simply adopting my peers’ practice of ‘putting the textbook online’ was not the way to reach my students and meet their needs, nor the way I wanted to teach. Thus, for well over a decade I have actively sought to improve online learning experiences. In what Rogers (2011) calls ‘interaction design gone wild’, I trial/refine all my innovations in the ‘wild’ of my classrooms based on what students need and how they respond, and then act on their feedback appropriately.

My own experiences as a distance learner has led to my intense focus on how to personalise learning for my online students (often 1,000 at a time). Long influenced by Moore’s concept of an interactional framework and transactional distance, whereby one seeks to limit the ‘pedagogical distance’ between instructor and students, I have innovated to build connections with my students by making my content, feedback and interactions come alive. More than a decade ago I started experimenting with audio, putting my voice into Powerpoint® slides, feedback on assignments submitted through Turnitin®, and webinars. I measured outcomes carefully: students’ marks/grades improved; they rated their satisfaction with my course very highly prospects; they became successful learners which allowed them to complete their degrees and achieve the careers they wanted, and most importantly they kept reaching back to me to explain the longer term impact of my teaching.

I ensure I know the constraints and benefits of any platform/application by thorough pre-testing, and only use technology that, under my guidance in real time, I know my students will be able to learn to use quickly (i.e. that adds minimal additional cognitive load; Kalyuga & Liu, 2015; Sweller & Chandler, 2011).

In my large classes quiet or inactive students can easily become ‘lost’, so I am very committed to innovating in ways that increase engagement. Learner analytics and automated responses to learner behaviour also facilitate my support of my cohorts. I recently discovered the Moodle® tool Personalized Learning Designer® (PLD), which allows automatic actions (e.g. messages to students) when specified conditions are met (e.g. a learning activity not tried). I have found PLD both student-supporting (increasing retention through early support of ‘at risk’ students) and teacher-enabling (reducing workload). By using PLD, in late 2021 I and my tutors could track >80% of our 1000+ students (a large proportion based overseas because of the pandemic) as completing learning activities without being prompted, and could quickly identify, support and advise those who were missing out.

Throughout my career, as I have witnessed, and could evidence, the significant benefits to students of my risk-contained ‘experimentation’ in my classroom, I found myself wanting to enable students in other courses to experience these same benefits. This led me directly to my colleagues in the Corridors.

In the Corridors

I realised my colleagues were often seeking me out for advice on how they could a personalised solution to a specific teaching problem, for example in relation to online course design or adoption of a technology for a specific purpose. I asked these colleagues how they had heard about what I was doing in my classes. I discovered that not only were my students my greatest advocates, but that, beyond my discipline expertise, my colleagues saw me as an ‘expert in practice’ with authentic experience. In sharing practices, I found underpinning my ‘how’ with my ‘why’ created impact, as it empowered my colleagues to overcome their natural concerns because they knew I wanted them to adapt, not copy, my approaches. As one colleague explained: “I thought you would know best because you have actually used [this technology], trained others and have large classes. You can tell me the benefits and pitfalls honestly”.

As word of my evidence base travelled, momentum built, and soon my innovations started pervading whole teaching programs, impacting very large numbers of students and changing multiple academics’ teaching practices. When I was using PLD in pandemic-disrupted 2020 and 2021, for example, I had more than 90% of my 1000+ students attending each online live session, and average course grades and satisfaction ratings remained consistent or improved compared with previous years. As these outcomes were not experienced by other courses in my School/Faculty, colleagues soon asked ‘What did you do differently?, which led to discussions about my innovative use of PLD and other engagement tools.

Importantly, I have always ensured my sharing conversations remained two-way. Having gained my colleagues’ trust, I can ask them detailed questions about their teaching without meeting the usual guardedness. When they started adapting any of my approaches, making changes that suited their specific needs, I would welcome those changes and ask more about these experiences, gathering knowledge I would then feed back into my own approaches. While I realise my willingness to try new approaches has become more distinctive, and interesting to others, I always recognise I have as much to learn from my colleagues as they might learn from me.

Across the Campus

As I tested and refined new innovations—sharing them with excitement only when I was sure they improved learning—my reputation grew. By being able to show clearly—through feedback, grades and satisfaction ratings—how I was transforming learning for my students, I was soon being asked to share my practices across campus via various teaching and learning forums and with other Faculties:

Everything you taught us has been invaluable … for all our online classes … a huge difference to our practice (Associate Dean, UNSW School of Public Health, 2020).

[Your] presentation has made me realise we need to get our academics up to speed with so much more than the technology (University Network of Faculty Educational Developers, 2013).

My influence grew, consistently sourced from the successful dissemination of my innovations. For example, my use of PLD in 2020 and 2021 was showcased by the central Educational Technology Services team and through an invited presentation at my University’s 2021 Education Festival: this led to PLD having its own webpage on my University’s Teaching and Learning site. Invitations to support colleagues in other Faculties has allowed me to build and contribute to campus networks, and reach out to other innovators across campus and beyond: for example, I now co-lead my University’s Community of Practice on Online and Learning Innovation.

In the Community

After my advanced implementation of ‘questioning feedback’, Turnitin® rubrics and Feedback Studio®—resulting in greater consistency and significant time-saving in grading—saw me representing my University at a select international learning forum way back in 2012, I realised how much educators globally were willing to embrace innovation in their pedagogy practice if they could be reassured such innovation would be worthwhile for them and their students.

I realised my opportunity for dissemination lay not in simply sharing practices for others to copy but to build capacity in educators to innovate and problem-solve in their own practice. I sought out conferences with professional development workshops or roundtable discussions where I can demonstrate my practice (e.g. using emojis as feedback, and using Socrative® to engage students emotionally as well as cognitively; e.g. Gribble & Wardrop, 2021a, 2021b) and inspire my audience of educators to take the next step.

I have also embedded my innovative practices into my more discipline-based presentations (e.g. Gribble & Wardrop 2014, 2021c) and my use of social media to reach my students has had greater reach than I expected: my 3-minute video on the risks of students multi-tasking with phones (Gribble 2018) has had >26 million views and been shared 29,000 times on just one of its many hosting platforms.

Looking back, looking forward

Although my approach using the 4Cs developed organically and intuitively, and I have only recently thought it all with a colleague through as a holistic dissemination strategy (Gribble & Beckmann, 2023) I am convinced that it has changed how I worked as an educator and education-focused academic. It has guided me into a strategic action research/learning approach to disseminate practice while undertaking iterative improvements and receiving peer review. I can honestly reflect that without the early awards for innovation I would probably have continued using technology in my own teaching, but would have never thought about being active in sharing my practice with others; being willing to test the affordances of different technologies and speak up to the institution when those affordances are insufficient or need tweaking; or really being willing to push the technology boundaries for the benefit of my students.

Once I realised others were interested in what I was doing, I started to codify and strategise what I was doing in the classroom, looking for underpinning theories or frameworks that would facilitate sharing the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’. The classroom has become my place to research, ‘experiment’ (ethically) and conduct pilot studies. Taking a conscious scholarly approach to innovation, I looked at every teaching or learning problem as an opportunity for improvement and collected diverse forms of quantitate and qualitative data about any changes I introduced, looking to measure objectively any impacts in or across contexts. As my innovations and their impact became acknowledged formally through multiple institutional, national and international teaching awards (although, to be honest, applying for those required a certain bravery), my confidence has grown in seeing myself as a connector, a contributor and builder of networks, essentially a Maven (“someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his [sic] own”: Gladwell, 2000, p66).


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. pp. 241-258. In: Richardson, J. (Ed.). Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education. Greenwood.
Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Little Brown.
Gribble, L. (2018). Are you addicted to your phone? Goalcast.
Gribble, L., & Beckmann, E. A. (2023). The 4 Cs Strategy for disseminating innovations in university teaching: Classroom, Corridors, Campus, Community. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 20(1), 13-34.
Gribble, L., & Wardrop, J. (2014). Beyond ethical awareness to ethical action: Developing ethical ability through experience and voice. Paper, 4th Annual Australasian Business Ethics Network Conference, Dec 1, Sydney.
Gribble, L., & Wardrop, J. (2021a). Maintaining ‘incidental’feedback in synchronous online learning environments. In: Baughan, P. (Ed.), Assessment and feedback in a post-pandemic era: A time for learning and inclusion. pp. 68-76. Advance HE.
Gribble, L., & Wardrop, J. (2021b). Learning by engaging: connecting with our students to keep them active and attentive in online classes. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. Special Issue 22: Compendium of Innovative Practice.
Gribble, L., & Wardrop, J. (2021c). Using technology to increase engagement in large synchronous learning environments. Paper presented at vMoBTS (Management & Organizational Behavior Teaching Society) Conference June 16-19.
Kalyuga, S. & Liu, T.C. (2015). Managing cognitive load in technology-based learning environments. Educational Technology & Society, 18(4), 1–8.
Moore, M. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education (pp. 22-38). Routledge.
Rogers, Y. (2011). Interaction design gone wild: Striving for wild theory. Interactions, 18:4, 58-62.
Sweller, J. & Chandler, P. (1994). Why some material is difficult to learn. Cognition and Instruction, 12:3,185-233.

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