Scenario workshops in Preparing for Learning in Higher Education

Emma Palmer, FHEA, Foundation Year Tutor in Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education.

This blog post shares an example of how discipline-tailored scenario workshops are used with Foundation Year students to help them apply their study skills to their subject and start to explore their disciplines in a fun and interactive way.

Foundation Year Students

The demographic for Foundation Year students, both at the University and within the sector, can vary from those who have come straight out of School or College and had not met the entry requirements, to those who have been out of education for some time and are returning to study (Hale, 2021). With a diverse population of Foundation Year students, there is a need to consider more than the tariff, but also their educational, circumstantial, dispositional, and cultural factors (Thomas and May, 2010). In a recent blog post for the Higher Education Policy Institute, Chris Husbands (2021) highlights the benefits of Foundation Year study. In particular, Foundation Year opens doors for students to have that stepping-stone to their new future goals.

Foundation Year students’ first module: Preparing for Learning in Higher Education

In our Foundation Year module ‘Preparing for Learning in Higher Education’, I designed and delivered a series of workshops for three subject groups in the Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education. This is a module that all Foundation Year students complete in the first five weeks of starting University as part of our ‘block teaching’ approach to ease them into University life, before moving onto two more modules. The purpose of the module is for students to start developing and implementing their academic study skills such as time management and essay writing.

The subject based workshops, that complimented the central sessions, had a scenario mapped out for the five weeks that linked with the theme of the central sessions.

With FACE Foundation Year students being on various programmes, the students were split into their discipline groups (Arts and Humanities, Criminology and Education). In these groups, the students were given initial information about their scenarios and the outcomes to be achieved. This offered opportunities to explore and develop the scenarios creatively and start to apply their critical thinking, reflection and research into practice based on their subject. Scenario-based learning is an opportunity to increase participation with learners, which can allow students to develop self-control and share their experiences (Yildiz, 2010). The following 5 weeks explored the scenarios in stages and were structured based on the key themes:

  • Week 1: Introduction to scenario
  • Week 2: Research
  • Week 3: Reviewing the material
  • Week 4: Putting into practice
  • Week 5: Review and Feedback.

Arts & Humanities

Arts and Humanities students (within subjects of Media Studies, Film Studies, English and History) were tasked to look into ‘Hamilton the Musical’ to see how research was applied into the creative process of creating a musical. The students were given the task of creating a ‘hypothetical’ musical based on a historical event or individual. The outcome of this was students choosing to focus on the life and death of Rasputin, the Russian mystic and self-proclaimed holy man, and create ‘Rasputin the Musical’.

We explored the timeline of his life based on literature students found and explored how this could be applied in the show, considered elements such as music, set design, script and costume designs. At the end, the students reviewed their musical and considered what were the strengths and areas for developments for the show. 

Rebecca Usher, BA (Hons) in Games Design (with Foundation Year))


Students in Criminology were presented a case of a body found in the home of a popular musician. After reviewing some of the evidence presented to them, they looked at those potentially involved in the death. Based on skeleton information from the parties of interest, students created questions to ask these individuals, before concluding who should be investigated further and taken to court for murder.

At the ‘court case’, the students were split into two groups – the prosecutors and the Jury, with the Foundation Year Tutor being the defense and a guest tutor from the Department of Criminology as the judge. Students were given the opportunity to develop further evidence, argue their case and draw their conclusions together. The Jury reviewed both sides of the argument and came to a verdict. After the court case, students had done further research into similar crime cases and highlighted what the outcome of the verdicts were.


Education Studies and Primary Teaching students were given the scenario of working in a new Primary school in Hull, and OFSTED were coming in to inspect the school. Students were tasked to look at previous OFSTED reports from local schools around Hull and discussed the outcomes of these and their thoughts. They then hypothetically created ‘sessions’ and considered resources they would need. Students then went into groups based on the OFSTED themes and identified key questions that the inspectors could ask them, and created their responses would be to those questions.

After the ‘inspection’, the students reflected on what the rating would be from OFSTED, which they rated themselves as ‘Good’ as they felt there was more development required to establish the School.

Students in all three subject workshops reflected on how their study skills would come into play in their disciplines and were able to demonstrate the following skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Reflection
  • Research skills
  • Time management

Delivery during COVID-19

At the time of the module, we were in the middle of COVID-19. Whilst these sessions were face to face, social distancing was required and there were some students watching a live online stream of the workshop via Teams. This was indeed a challenge, however this was achievable by facilitating discussions using Mentimeter, so all students were able to contribute whether they were in the room or not. There were some challenges, such as not having the appropriate equipment so the students online could hear the full discussions. This was a barrier to them; however, it did not stop them from interacting within the sessions.

As students were tasked with homework, they were encouraged to continue further discussion on Teams in between classes which not only allowed an opportunity for socialisation but created familiarity for students on how to use Teams or other platforms. Whilst it was not a formal group work, these tasks saw high engagement for these workshops, with good attendance and continued conversations between sessions.

Student Feedback

At the end of the five weeks students were asked to offer informal feedback on the sessions. Feedback was very positive, with many saying they gained a lot out of the subject workshops and could see how basic academic skills can be transferred into their disciplines, particularly with the scenarios. Students also felt that they were able to share their personal experiences and contributions in the scenarios in a welcoming environment. In addition, the Module Evaluation Questionnaire demonstrated qualitative evidence that students found the scenarios both beneficial and enjoyable.

“As a criminology student, I thought Emma's idea of creating a crime scene scenario was perfect for all the group to communicate and get together to chat about what I'm sure we all love!” – Anon Foundation Year Student (Module Evaluation Questionnaire response 2020)”

Recently, when I asked students in their one to ones about their highlights of the Foundation year, a proportion of them reflected on these sessions and stated how they enjoyed these. From being on campus to meeting others on the course, it is evident that these workshops gave them a chance to not only have a taste of their subject, but to develop opportunities to create a sense of belonging.


During these workshops, I was delighted to see how the Foundation Year students were progressing and settling into University within these five weeks. Though we faced challenges due to COVID-19, this has also been a learning opportunity for myself; through designing and delivering fun and interactive sessions for students, I have also been able to consider how to make these accessible and inclusive for all students, whether they are face to face or online.

My advice for anyone looking into scenario-based workshops is to consider ways for students to exercise their academic study skills in discipline practice and create opportunities for students to interact and engage to create a sense of belonging at University.


Hale S. (2021) Social Class and the Foundation Year. [presentation]

Thomas, L. and May, H., (2010) Inclusive Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. York: Higher Education Academy.

Yildiz, N. (2010) Effects of experiment applications on the success, attitude and scientific abilities of the students in solution of learning scenarios based in science education. [Unpublished Masters Thesis] Marmara University, Istanbul.

Image credit: Mira Kireeva on Unsplash 

Last updated