K is for…

…knowledge. Last week was all about knowledge, the transference and development of knowledge through teaching. Teaching in Higher Education. Teaching and learning styles…experiential learning…it was the start of the Preparing Postgraduate Researchers to Teach in Higher Education – Supporting Learning course recognized by SEDA. The one benefit of going on this course is the fact I get to see RJW on the train in the morning, like boats passing for about 20 minutes. It makes my day.

The day began with introductions, the normal icebreaker affair compulsory at these kinds of training events. I was paired with a microfinance PhD student from Ghana called Sam, whose research was at the other end of the spectrum to mine. We each had to explain to the group a little bit about each other, which actually unveiled a very broad mix and range of research interests…popular culture, media, psychology, finance…from here, we were asked to recall words which related to one good lecturer we had been taught by the past…successful, motivator, accessible, problem solver, understanding, personable, knowledgeable, communicator, interactive, participatory, rapport, detailed, confident, engaging, raconteur, charismatic, diverse…all the characteristics that we must embody as future teachers. Or I hope to at least.

There were seven in the group, and I think I may have been one of the most verbal…in the group activities. Another task was to choose an analogy from a list that best represented how you will or do relate to your learners. I chose “gardener to plants”, as did another person in the group. I see Fine Art students as seeds which need to be cultivated and grown, you can give them the essentials they need to survive, but ultimately it is them that use their knowledge and skills appropriately and successfully to grow. Right? It is obvious that different group dynamics and personalities will affect the approach you take…so perhaps other analogies such as “tour guide to tour bus”, which was a popular choice, or “website to surfer” chosen by my PhD colleague Lorenzo. He saw this relationship as creating interactions by providing information, a duality of roles, where freedom is given within a specific structure and context. Other ones suggested were “explorer to explorer” which is how I actually view my supervisory relationship for my PhD, and “stone thrower to pigeons”. This last one made me smile. It is relevant in some contexts.

The formal course context and deadlines were explained along with a general overview of the state of the Higher Education system. When discussing the future of universities the paper ‘Higher Ambitions‘ was recommended as light reading…the summary obviously…which sets out a course for how universities can remain world class, providing the nation with the high level skills needed to remain competitive, while continuing to attract the brightest students and researchers. We then examined Learning by Doing in relation o experiential learning specifically referencing the Kolb cycle, which in order for a student to have an effective learning experience they must go around the cycle at least once. Indigestible terminology must not be used, in my case this is actually difficult as I like writing intellectual dense waffle. From here, we moved on to Learning Styles of which four different types were stated – Activists, Reflectors, Theorists and Pragmatists. As part of a group exercise we had to select which one we each were and explain why…I was an Activist…’there are new experiences/problems/opportunities from which to learn’, ‘they are thrown in at the deep end with a task they think is difficult’, they have a lot of the limelight’ and ‘they can engross themselves in short ‘here and now’ activities’…yep, hit the nail on the head Activist…no one else in the group was one, in fact the majority were reflectors and theorists which made me feel incredibly arrogant in some respects, I really don’t like standing out, but sometimes I do realise I talk too much. It is usual however for individuals to work in different ways, in multiple intelligences, across many of these learning styles. It is how you accomodate these styles within your teaching practice.

The penultimate section of the day looked into how our research links into our teaching as research and writing is usually a solitary act, where the implications of this are two diametrically opposed things. Students can often be used as active participants, as part of the research process. There is a fine line between exploitation and the domain of research in an ethical capacity…should you protect the identity of your research when discussing it with students? It became clear that you must always make clear your positioning, your own identity (academic? teacher? researcher?) so the learners know where they stand. Engage them as equal partners in the knowledge exchange – “empowerment” – break down the institutional hierarchies. We also looked at the hindrances and the links that researching whilst teaching would cause…the group I was in came up with these…

The phrase “out of the box” had to appear at some stage.

The final section of the day entitled ‘Explaining to Others’ allowed us to present a new topic to one member of the group. One person was the explainer, the other the learner. One explained, the other then reiterate what you explained to them. From this we established what were good and bad methods of explanations…I spoke about Mandarin…using lists and bullet points, so I suppose visual aids. Dion (I hope I’ve spelt your name right) recalled it perfectly. Again, common sensical things arose such as the use of visual aids, clear concise communication, systematic approach, the ability to read your learner such as body language, engaging your audience, confidence, interactivity and ultimately knowledge of your subject.

One thing I haven’t mentioned was the amazing lunch spread/buffet…pepper and apricot couscous, feta cheese and black olive salad, fresh meat platter including parma ham, five bean salad…it goes on and was certainly another thing that made my day, I could eat the food, yey! And I was even cheeky enough to take some of it home in Tupperware I had in my rucksack. It kept me going for two days! I’ll definitely be prepared at tomorrows session. Seriously good healthy food.

One thing that did come out of this first teacher training session was how much I hope to be like those who inspired me and got me to where I am today. I am a true believer in maintaining relationships with those that have helped you along the way…from High School through to Postgraduate education there has always been someone who has really made an impact on my life. Individual and unforgettable. Fingers crossed eh.

I have huge updates about the exhibition I have curated at the AirSpace Gallery called \”home\”, job updates, Mandarin developments and ummm…PhD fieldwork plans. All very exciting, but I’ll save it for another day, hopefully tomorrow.

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