#ILTA192 week 1 can we make learning sticky…

a_few_ground_fireworks_flowers_holland

The fireworks of learning and teaching! Source

I always feel nervous when I start working with a new group. Is there anybody who doesn’t? It is, I think worse, at the beginning of the academic year, because of the longer gap. I often ask myself then “Can I still do this? Can I still do this well and with passion?” We are in term three now so these feelings were not as strong as they would have been after a summer break… I have to admit and I have been teaching in the previous terms. Looking back at the last almost six years, I have been teaching every term, providing feedback, assessing work and marking.  Every term? Do I feel exhausted? I don’t think so. Teaching gives me fresh energy. During the last term I was also team-teaching on a postgraduate unit with a colleague in Nutritional Sciences with my colleague Haleh Moravej. Not my specialism at all. I actually know very little about nutrition and only from an healthy eater perspective. I have to say that I loved that experience as it was a completely new area for me. It was so exciting and I had the opportunity to work very closely with a peer in the faculty and our students. Yes, they were our students. This is how we both felt and we are currently writing this team-teaching experience up to be shared more widely, hoping others will consider this approach of teaching. Teaching students in the faculty is important for us academic developers. We don’t always have that opportunity. We often create it ourselves. For example, when I was at Salford, I used to teach German. It was so refreshing and useful. Especially as when teaching on our PGCAP I could more fully participate in the discussions about students with my peers and also share my own first hand experiences with them.

Ok, back to the now. ILTA is our first unit on the PgCert. It stands for Introduction to Learning, Teaching and Assessment. A very important unit for me. If not the most important one. We get colleagues from across the university in different role, academic and professional services and sometimes colleagues from other institutions as well. Many are new to teaching in HE, others have been doing it for a while or a bit longer even, others have to do the unit and the PgCert as it is part of their probation requirements, others come on their own as they want the qualification and the learning and development that comes with it.  It is that diversity of people who come together that can make it a rich experience and can create lasting relationships. I have been teaching this unit since arriving at ManMet in Oct 13 and every time it is a unique experience with its ups and downs, of course. Often I have wished it to be longer… When I was working at Salford (ok, going back in time again), I was the PGCAP programme leader there working with a small team of academic developers and learning technologists. I was known as the PGCAP lady… and my students were the disruptive troops in a nice way and we often worked directly with the then PVC Academic and the VC. We really did disrupt practices but with a purpose. We had a 30 credit core unit and that really worked well in creating a sense of community. I felt hat it made a real difference to how colleagues engaged, the experimentation that we did together (even some research! and disseminated further through conferences and publications). Here at ManMet, we are planning for changes in this direction now, which is very encouraging.

So, in our first session, I think I was upbeat (music always helps and I like playing music when students enter the room but also for me while I set up). I felt excited. It was a fresh start for all of us and I was looking forward to meeting everybody. Colleagues, who are now also my students, were smiling when they arrived and many were there early. That was a good sign, I thought 😉

I think I did manage to draw (at least some of) my colleagues in, to create an atmosphere to open up and to start thinking about learning and teaching in different ways. We introduced the unit, talked a lot of about learning outcomes and constructive alignment and the assessment requirements. I had far too many slides!!! Far too many. Will I ever learn? I just get excited with things I can do in the classroom but then I do often run out of time. Anyway.

Having an open mind in such courses, PgCert courses, is really important but also to trust in the process, what we do and how. But also trust each other. If my colleagues don’t trust the process, the group and don’t trust me, I am not sure we can go far. There will be resistance, of course, there will be (not always, of course) as some of the approaches  modeled are less frequently used… but if we are in this together, we do become more tolerant and open to new ideas, a course does this much better than a workshop, and a longer course does this better than a short course. My own experience and research has shown this.

So, the plan was to help colleagues feel comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time and engage with perhaps less used learning and teaching approaches that hopefully would stimulate some new thinking, unthinking and re-thinking but also action.  Yes, from the very first session. There is no point waiting for it to happen later. The best time is now! Professor Phil Race talks about In at the deep end. I just love that phrase! BTW, I learnt to swim, not by watching videos or following  instructions, I actually had to jump into the deep end of the pool literary… the whole class did. I have to admit that it was a scary experience and I did go at the back of the queue. But in the end I did it. Everybody did.

For me it is important to help my colleagues to immerse themselves into something that is different. Something they don’t do already. Something that makes them think more deeply about what they do, could do and may do in the future in their teaching and supporting students’ learning. I want to help them boost their confidence in teaching and be more aware of learning itself, the process and their learners and how to create varied, inclusive stimulating and exciting learning opportunities. Otherwise what would be the point of academic development? I often ask myself that question. And yes, while it is also about benchmarking and effective practice and raising the quality of teaching across the institution and getting more colleagues qualified, our courses also provide a fantastic opportunity to go beyond the minimum expectations. Nurturing creativity and innovation in teaching is so important and have a real potential to lead to transformation, of practitioners, their practice but also lead to transformative learning within and beyond students’ time at university and beyond! But I am not a bystander. I am part of the process, I am also immersed in it and I am learning with and from my colleagues too. I challenge and am challenged. And I am exposed. I practise at the edge and this is often forgotten… I don’t play it safe and yes, there are risks. I am far to curious to explore, to have adventures and make surprising discoveries with my colleagues that will all help us move forward… to not practise this way…

We got a wide range of experiences in the group and the discussions and debates started from very early on. What is often missing from these courses (and external examiners often comment on this) is the critical engagement with the literature. I wanted to change this. I have tried all kinds of approaches in the past… I had no idea if it (it= I will come to this in a moment) would work but I wanted to give it a go. I had used a variation of this approach in another PgCert course and in workshops. The idea came from Steve  Outram. At the time we were both working on an HEA Change Academy project at Lincoln University and he mentioned it in one of the sessions he led. Ok, but what did I do? I ripped an academic journal apart, a physical copy of it and shared an article with each colleague in the group. But why on earth did I rip a journal apart? I suspect that some of my colleagues were shocked when it happened in front of their eyes. I thought that the act of ripping a journal apart in itself will be memorable. But then also everybody had that article in their possession. No need to read an email, download it, print it etc. Could this help colleagues engage with it? To read it, to start immersing themselves into the academic literature around learning and teaching in HE, to start familiarising themselves with a new subject area and its terminology? However, there was no guarantee that it would work. But the potential that it would was huge, for me at least so I experimented with this approach.

Final notes: I still have that curiosity to experiment, play with ideas, surprise others and do the unexpected. I need to stay more focused but how can I do this with all that excitement that feeds my imagination and my actions? I am opening this up to my colleagues and students and hope we can engage in a conversation around our shared experiences.

I can only be me. I only want to be me. Read here what is important to me.

Let’s see what happens in week 2.