MEd Academic Practice – My (Failing) Reflections 5

I’m writing this blog post in Manchester airport’s departure lounge, by gate 49, as my flight is VERY delayed to Brussels, Belguim. The joys of budget airlines! ManaXi and I are flying over for four days to support the opening of my friend Alex Lebbink’s new Chinese art space – SinArts Gallery. (If we ever get there…) Airports are a regular writing space for Wordgirl, pre-transit to another (place in the) world, to new conversations, dialogues and experiences…to those new connections that you know I love to MAKE HAPPEN. Airports are what I’d call a safe working space (as no one can disturb me) where my words seem to fly out onto the page…an expensive space at the same time, I can’t just fly off every time I get writer’s block! I seem to work better the farther away I am from home…a normal writer’s affliction I think.

Time to reflect more on the MEd in Academic Practice, specifically in relation to the Curriculum Design module that I completed just before Christmas. Another Med module done! I’m finishing the Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching (TELT) module in April, then a final module(s) next academic year…time already evaporating.

In November 2015, I met with a Lecturer from the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University (BCU) to talk more about teaching and learning for international students and issues of internationalising curriculum (design). I met her through the 8th Annual CCVA Conference I’d co-organised, where we’d exchanged a passionate end of panel discussion about cultural assimilation and cultural appropriation. It made me think immediately my learning journey for the MEd in Academic Practice – my focus on Global Citizenship and teaching international students – and the application of her knowledge to the Curriculum Design process. More specifically, how this dialogue could influence the design of the new MA Contemporary Arts China I am currently co-developing (finally launched!). I only have a few fingers in a few pies at the moment (no kidding)?! When will I learn? Hang on a minute, I always am…

The BCU School of Jewellery, The Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
The BCU School of Jewellery, The Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

When we met, we spoke of my interests in relation to her experiences of working with international students. Here are a few notes from our discussion. It was so interesting and clarifying to hear her say so many similar-minded things including a need to change the way in which we teach and design the curriculum.

Her current teaching practice uses the first week of term as an induction week then breaking up the cohort into four study groups encouraging a balance and mix of students. She stated the importance of acknowledging communication and cultural difference.

“The language barrier stops us understanding – we don’t get to know the students or join in with their point of interest. It is harder.”

This doesn’t mean it is up to us to learn Mandarin…although I did state through having a basic knowledge it gave an “in” point and helped in gaining respect from the students. It is also about shifting them out of their comfort zone. She stated her interest is more explicitly about culture – value of culture and difference – though we are not allowed to identify it as “difference”.

“It depends what we want out of learning – do we see learning and visual language and utilising visual language as “cultural appropriation”? This experience actually becomes part of the student’s work and makes their work richer, as does the process of engagement and communication between each other. They are inextricably linked.”

She went on to mention the School of Jewellery’s Fish ‘n’ Chip and Chinese New Year parties as a way of acknowledging culture and difference, though there is a capacity issue with this in terms of time it requires to organise these events and also financial. To her the question was, how do we sustain, encourage and develop Jewellery?

Also students are international, not just from China, although a large proportion from China. This becomes a sustainability issue – how do we make learning experiences transcultural not just Chinese? She stated that over 70% of Jewellery students are international, where on the Masters course there is currently only one home student. This surprised me and is apparently like no other course at BCU.

There is an argument that UK students are not getting intellectual stimulation from their international peers and that they want to leave the course and BCU because of this. Furthermore, there are Health and safety issues, more so as they don’t seem to exist in China, so this has to be considered especially in the workshops where signs are now bilingual in Chinese and English. Another problem is Chinese students paying others to take their English language exam when in China, therefore the reality of their language skills when they join BCU is not what is down on paper. And there are barriers to integration between campuses at BCU. She stated many of these challenges are ignored at BCU.

School of Jewellery BCU 2
Workshop space, The BCU School of Jewellery, The Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

What’s core is your thinking of any student from direct, non-critical thinking educationconsidering how people think and giving them permission to think, also not just to research. THINK – creative, critical, criticising, challenging. Clear questions for students are:

  • What freedoms do you want?
  • Tell me how you learn!

It is important to acknowledge and let students fail – giving students the opportunity not to be perfect and to be really valued as an individual and human being. As teachers, we need a sense of that person in order to attend to their different needs. If placements are organised and facilitated well, they help to find out more information about the student and how to support their needs, also to find out issues and concerns. Anyone on these courses, even though offered training and support, often muddle through. How can we prevent this?

When constructing the prototype BA (Hons) Global Life course, as part of the Curriculum Design module I have just completed, I wanted to create a module called ‘The Art of Failing’ or ‘The Art of Failure’…as failing must be valued as a great learning experience. By chance, I recently came across the blog post ‘Certain failure’ by Seth Godin, which seemed to epitomise this documented dialogue:

Last night, a comedian tried out some new material, and someone in the front row didn’t laugh.

Last week, I put up a post with a new idea in it, and thousands of people who read it didn’t retweet or share it.

Last year, someone ran for office and didn’t get every single vote cast.

Failure! Certain failure.

Of course your next project isn’t going to delight everyone. That’s impossible. It’s certain that for some people, your project is going to be a failure.

At the same time, it’s also quite unlikely that your project will please no one.

So now, we can agree that it’s all on a spectrum, and that success and failure are merely localized generalizations.

Once you realize that failure is certain, it’s a lot easier to focus on impact instead.

1 Comment

  1. Really insightful comments, Rachel – ‘the art of failure’ is a great module suggestion which, as is often the case, has potential benefits for all. Helps to shed light on an aspect of the learning process that is usually only documented in the student handbook under arcane terminology like ‘retrieval arrangements’, and unpacks the learning process for international students who need to round out their understanding of the learning cycle and high achieving students who put so much pressure on themselves they seize up; the learning ecology as a whole stands to gain. Where do I sign up?

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