Magic to conjure up academic skills for dissertation support




This project uses magic to explore dissertation skills with students. Students in a session on preparing for the dissertation learnt a magic trick and then used their experience of learning the trick to reflect and to develop narratives around their dissertation topic focussing on the skills of researching and writing. We compared the results of the intervention group to those of a control group (who were given the same session but excluding the magic trick). The teaching sessions integrated skills essential for completing the dissertation such as critical thinking, linking, metacognitive reflection, and conceptualising the process of a long project. Previous research has suggested that using magic can stimulate curiosity, engage and motivate students, and that they will find the session more memorable (see Moss, Irons and Boland, 2017; Wiseman and Watt, 2020; Wiseman, Wiles and Watt, 2021)


The presentation reported the findings from pre- and post-session questionnaires completed by participants to evaluate the use of a magic trick in teaching dissertation skills by:


  • Evaluating the effectiveness of using a magic trick to teach dissertation skills.
  • Evaluating the use of magic to make skills teaching more memorable.
  • Evaluating the use of magic to support motivation and positive emotions around dissertation tasks.
  • Evaluating the use of magic to counter some of the negative affects students encounter such as lack of motivation or negative self-efficacy beliefs.

Author Biographies

Emma Kimberley, University of Northampton

Emma Kimberley is a Learning Development tutor at the University of Northampton. Her research interests are in reading and in the affective and emotional context of academic skills.

Paul Rice, University of Northampton

Paul Rice is a Learning Development Tutor at the University of Northampton. He joined the department in 2009 and his specialist area is mathematics and statistics (including SPSS). Paul completed his Master’s in Education at the University of Northampton and his Statistics undergraduate studies at Reading University. His research interests are widespread and he often supports researchers with their data analysis. However, his own current research interest is in the area of using magic in education.

Amy West, University of Northampton

Amy West is a Learning Development tutor at the University of Northampton. Amy’s previous experience in the arts feeds into the performative elements of this project, and her experience teaching in schools aligns with the playful learning aspect. Her current research interests centre on the teaching and learning of critical thinking, active learning and the use of metaphor in teaching.


Cameron, J., Nairn, K. and Higgins, J. (2009) ‘Demystifying academic writing: reflections on emotions, know-how and academic identity’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 33(2), pp.269-284.

Forster, E. (2020) ‘Power and paragraphs: academic writing and emotion’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, Issue 19, December, pp.1-14.

Moss, S., Irons, M. and Boland, M. (2017) ‘The magic of magic: the effect of magic tricks on subsequent engagement with lecture material’, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 87(1), pp.32-42.

Wiseman, R. and Watt, C. (2020) ‘Conjuring cognition: a review of educational magic-based interventions’, PeerJ, 8, e8747.

Wiseman, R., Wiles, A. and Watt, C. (2021) ‘Conjuring up creativity: the effect of performing magic tricks on divergent thinking’, PeerJ, 9, e11289.




How to Cite

Kimberley, E., Rice, P. and West, A. . (2022) “Magic to conjure up academic skills for dissertation support”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (25). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi25.977.