Time to give back. Time to reciprocate. Haleh @halehmoravej and I meet a few months after I joined ManMet. That was over five years ago. Our shared passion for creative experimentation in learning and teaching brought us together. We have learnt to maximise on what unites us and how we can complement each other. We are colleagues, peers, equals. Stefani (2003) illustrated the positive impact of academic development on academics when collaboration and partnership models are used. We have experienced this in practice.
We have worked together on a range of learning and teaching initiatives and Haleh was also my student on two modules when she was working towards her teaching qualification in higher education. But before then we were already team teaching on our PgCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and she was an active member of the Greenhouse community and later #creativeHE. And we have worked together on an undergraduate unit she teaches and done some research together using playful approaches to module evaluation together with her students. Over the years, I got to know Haleh really well and many of her students too. Her passion is infectious. When she invited me to co-develop and team teach the postgraduate module Nutrition in Practice I couldn’t resist.
As academic developers we work with academic staff, our students on the programmes we offer are academics too. So we are usually a layer removed from the students our students work with. Some might say our students are not really students. I have heard this myself. But they are students and it is a unique opportunity for academics to have that double role: Lecturer and student at the same time, as this double role is helping them to experience themselves what their students are going through and learn to empathize with them. We see this happening as academic developers and there are useful and impactful experiences for academics when being a student that help them consider changes to their own practice. Our students are professionals like you would have in a health professions course or an MBA for example. The only difference I see is that most our our students are members of staff, our colleagues.
I treasure the opportunities to teach other students than academic colleagues. And there have been such opportunities in the past. Often, I create them. I think academic developers should do this as part of their professional role, I mean working and teaching non-academics too. Being an academic as an academic developer is important too. A peer who but also to teach on programmes outside academic development. I used to teach German in my last institution and found it always useful in my discussions with colleagues to share my stories about my undergraduate students. It does make a difference. My experience showed that it helps develops trust. But I haven’t seen universities where this is actively promoted or build-into the academic development role. Is there an opportunity there to do more about this?
With Haleh, we planned the module for some months in advance and our meetings were always full of ideas and excitement. We had big plans and were looking forward to doing this together. Then the unexpected happened and I fell ill when we were going to start. I was upset with myself but could not do anything about it. This illness meant Haleh had to start on her own but she kept me in the loop and always referred to “our students”, from a distance I still felt part of the team. I loved seeing all the pictures, videos and tweets. I was looking forward to seeing the students when I got back to work. That happened in week three.
Finally I was there. Finally I saw our students. I was with our students. Loved their energy and desire to learn. Their openness and honesty. Their eyes sparkled and I could see their determination for learning. Haleh had already done her magic to bring them together as a group. They had started opening up. Their diversity, culturally and professionally, enriched our experiences and we wanted to maximise on this.
So what does an academic developer do in a class she knows nothing about the subject beyond being liking good food and healthy eating? Well, with Haleh we discussed not so much the what was going to be taught in this module but more the how and why. In a way we really moved away from content delivery, and I don’t like that word “delivery” at all, to bringing the curriculum alive through stimulating, varied and hands on experiences that will help our students think and enable them to discover their own areas within nutrition and develop as professionals. This happened through a wide range of approaches we employed that transformed learning into a full body, heart and mind experience. We listened, discussed, we made, we played, we cried and we questioned. We all learnt. Emotions are so important in learning. Often we ignore them, we brush them under the carpet. But when we work with people it is really important to remember we all have an emotional dimension too. And this emotional connection can be made strongly through stories. Moon (2010, 60) states “A good story seems to facilitate listeners and the teller in moving around in the psychological space of the story, guided by the unfolding actions of the story. For the listener to allow herself vicariously to experience the ‘story world’ involves her in ‘suspending her disbelief’ and thereby suspending some current connections with the here and now. She allows herself to be transported ‘aboard’ the story and may encounter different reality.” The story I shared, I felt enabled this. While the story was based on a personal experience, the re-action it generated and the emotional involvement it triggered showed that it was a powerful strategy. I suspect we will all remember the story I told and connect it with something very specific we learnt thanks to it.
Guests brought the world into the classroom, the lab provided a space for creative experimentation and responding to students feedback, Haleh will also take students away from campus. Haleh organised this super quickly responding to students’ feedback. We normalised the use of technologies in and outside the classroom and created opportunities to help students develop as professionals using digital tools, platforms and spaces.
The use of a social media, process and product portfolio, owned by the students, was invaluable and put the students in charge of their learning and development (Scully, O’Leary & Brown, 2018). I am impressed with the professionalism of our students and how responsibly they have embraced digital technologies for their learning. Students have used the portfolio seamlessly not just capturing classroom activities and assessment but also to share and showcase their work more widely in order to establish a professional space and online presence in readiness for a career in nutrition science.
The portfolios are a colourful tapestry and evidence experimentation and a professional maturity documenting learning adventures and discoveries. Many of the portfolios are also shared more widely and are turning into conversation spaces about nutrition. Our students are developing a professional identity as a nutritionist. It is truly wonderful. Have a look at Leticia’s portfolio!
The students used their own devices to capture visual memories of their learning experiences and share these further via their WordPress portfolios and Instagram mainly, from what I have seen. Most importantly they also learnt to put their devices to one side and be with their peers in real time. Often we are physically with people but we are hooked to our phones and engaged with others elsewhere. There is a danger that we are always trying to be were we are not and don’t live the moment where we are with the people we share the moment with in the same physical location.
Doing the mid unit evaluation with our students was insightful. We used a variation of the LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) method to gain deep insights into the individual and collective experience in our class and combined it with other approaches as we felt that it would further strengthen sharing and dialogic engagement (James & Nerantzi, 2018). That featured individuals building of two mini models, one for what they are taking away from the module so far and one for what they would find useful to change/happen in this module before we reach the end. We asked our students to add a capture for each model on a post-it and then we did sticker voting when the models were shared. This way everything that was shared was transparent, we could react and respond and also clarify and better understand what was said and what could be done. Students’ honesty did shine through but also their determination to learn. It was fantastic to hear how positive the module was perceived already and more importantly that they felt they had learnt new things and also found the practical sessions useful for their development.
I was impressed with the dishes students prepared responding to specific briefs they self-selected and how much care went into these based on their understanding of nutritional value for particular groups and individuals of our society.
I think we all realised from very early on the important role the social dimensions plays in our development but also in the context of nutrition.
What I have learnt
- Team-teaching between academic and academic developer is something that is valuable for both sides, develops close working relationships, mutual understanding of each other’s role, opportunities and challenges. It is a valuable opportunity for the academic developer to teach students who are not members of staff and for the academic to work critically and creatively with a colleague on the design, implementation and evaluation of their teaching.
- Academics are open to change and transformation as they care deeply about their students. They put a lot of energy into creating stimulating learning experiences. This really drives what they do. They value the opportunity to work with somebody they trust when seen as equals to consider alternative approaches that have the potential to benefit their students.
- We need to trust our colleagues and we need to trust our students. Creating a sense of community is what makes a real difference and develops trust within. The academic plays a key role in laying the foundations for such a community to emerge and establish. Showing our human side helps develop empathy.
- Empowering students to pursue their own special interests linked to a module and programme of study and building in choice increases their engagement and commitment to their own development.
- Diversity boosts collaboration. We saw this in action. Students were curious about each other and keen to learn with and from each other. Sharing diverse experiences with other other helped them connect their reality with others and build a wider understanding of differences, culturally, politically, economically and socially.
How can we encourage such mutual professional development collaborations more? They are valuable practice-based development that break free from workshops and organised activities and offer on the job and just in time development with direct application for all those involved. There are of course resource implications to further spread such developmental collaborations, but I am wondering if there are specific cases where such an investment could potentially transform learning and teaching and reinvigorate practitioners? Could such an approach then be cascaded and have a ripple effect?
I had started growing chilly plants on my windowsill in January. During one of our sessions we shared them with our students. To look after them, to nurture them and help them grow, just like we did with our students.
Thank you for this opportunity Haleh.
I am looking forward to the next chapter of our shared adventure.
James, A. & Nerantzi, C. (2018) Guest Editors: A Potpourri Of Innovative Applications Of LEGO® In Learning, Teaching And Development, In: International Journal of Management and Applied Research, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 153-156. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18646/2056.54.18-011
Moon, J. (2010) Using story in higher education and professional development, London: Routledge.
Scully, D., O’Leary, M. & Brown, M. (2018) The Learning Portfolio in Higher Education: A Game of Snakes and Ladders. Dublin: Dublin City University, Centre for Assessment Research, Policy & Practice in Education (CARPE) and National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL), available at http://dcu.ie/sites/default/files/carpe/eportfolio_report.pdf
Stefani, L. (2003) What is staff and educational development? In: Kahn, P. & Baume, D., eds., 2003. A guide to staff & educational development. Oxon: Routledge, pp.9-23.