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The Society for Research into Higher Education


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Using Tentacular Pedagogy to change the HE culture

by Kai Syng Tan

From Leonardo da Vinci (whose trans-disciplinary inventiveness was attributed to his ADHD) to bell hooks (whose professorial role drew on her activism and poetry practice), history has no lack of examples of how creative and neurodivergent processes have produced insights to catalyse social and culture change. There are also growing calls for interdisciplinary and creative approaches prioritising equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to solve wicked global challenges (AHRC 2022, WEF 2016).

However, the ‘dog-eat-dog’ culture of Higher Education (HE), austerity measures and more are leading to harmful consequences, and stakeholders with protected characteristics are worst affected (Berg, Huijbens, and Larsen 2016; UKRI 2021; Bhopal 2020; Blell, Liu and Verma 2022).  Creative arts (CA-HE), often deemed less valuable than STEM subjects, are particularly threatened (Puffett 2022, Redmond 2020), evidenced in the closure of departments, and exacerbating the already tense relationship between the CA-HE and HE (Elkins 2009). Furthermore, research suggests CA-HE is elitist (Annetts 2018; Starkey 2013), racist (Orr 2021; Tan 2021a), and failing neurodivergent students and staff by not paying enough attention to their mental wellbeing (who are over-represented in CA-HE at around 30% in the student population, in Bacon and Bennett 2013; RCA 2015).

Octopuses and Tentacles

I have been cultivating ‘Tentacular Pedagogy’ (TP) for 24 years as a HE teacher and consultant. Prioritising creative thinking, leadership and EDI, this teaching and learning practice draws on the octopus’s extraordinary composition of three hearts and nine minds. My keynote lecture for the European League of Institutes of the Arts Teachers Academy argued for a polycentric, transversal, (co-)creative teaching/learning approach which aims to make CA-HE more inclusive. In doing so, and following artist-academic James Elkin’s (2009) call to use creative research to inform and transform HE, TP rallies CA-HE to play a more (pro-)active leadership role within HE and beyond in nurturing a more creative and compassionate future. UNESCO (2021) have called for HE to ‘repair injustices while transforming the future’ by 2050, with a new ‘social contract’ that prioritises ‘human dignity and cultural diversity’, plus ‘care, reciprocity, and solidarity’.

Three Hearts and Nine Minds

TP features three EDI tenets and nine dimensions. TP’s heart(s) lies in neurodiversity, decolonisation (and the related notions of anti-racism and internationalisation), and intersectionality. Neurodiversity has remained largely ‘invisible’ in HE (Tan 2018), even though it has been called a ‘competitive advantage’ or ‘the next talent opportunity’ for organisations (Harvard 2017, WEF 2018). This is a missed opportunity, given HE’s ‘omnicrisis’ (Gill 2022). Activating research about how creativity, neurodiversity, and leadership interrelate (Tan 2021b; Tan 2019, Baron-Cohen 2017; Lesch 2018, Abraham et al 2006), TP cares about teaching/learning with/from/for/by marginalised ideas, methods and communities, who are often excluded from HE and syllabi. Surviving – even thriving – within hostile systems, TP purports that these communities are already creative and leader-ful by nature and design, and CA-HE should learn from them. TP also allies with other minoritised communities to address all social oppression (Obasi 2022, Walker 1983). Just as each tentacle of the octopus is an independent mind, TP’s nine embodied ‘minds’ teach/learn through nine Cs.

Creativity, Community and Co-Creation

TP celebrates creativity, community and co-creation. This concerns creative thinking (Krathwhol 2002, Marton and Säljö 1976) encompassing everyday creativity and disruptive invention alike (Kaufman & Beghetto 2009). TP engages with external communities toform unique learning communities. Learners include peers, professors and professionals within and beyond CA-HE and HE, including psychological and social sciences and third sector organisations. TP also foregrounds multi-directional and anti-hierarchical learning. Often gathered in the same learning environment together, TP’s diverse learners, including the ‘teacher’, learn via collaboration.

Creativity, Community and Co-Creation were exemplified in the 75th Anniversary Celebrations of the 5th Pan African Congress in Manchester(PAC75) for Black History Month 2020. Led by Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with the Universities of Manchester and Salford, and local arts bodies, PAC75 marked Manchester’s impact on global history in nationhood and Black Lives Matter through a programme celebrating diverse leadership and intersectional engagement through culture. In 18 seminars, performances, and workshops black students chaired sessions with elders like Afua Hirsch and Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton), elevating their self-worth and leadership. Materials produced continue to be used, for example in Manchester’s ‘Remaking Modern British History’ MA, and at the University of Ghana.

Collage, Can-Do, Curiosity

TP cultivates novel, meaningful synergies between diverse and/or disconnected body-minds, subjects, disciplines, classes and cultures, driven by ‘productive antagonisms’ (Latham and Tan 2017). TP itself collages pedagogies like undercommons (Moten and Harney, 2013), and STEM-to-STEAM movements (Pomeroy 2012, Eger 2011). Following the shapeshifting octopus, TP also nurtures a can-do attitude. Agility, resourcefulness and enterprise are cultivated through role-play, advocacy, volunteering and action-learning. As an artist-teacher-reflective practitioner (Thornton 2005) and a REF-submitted researcher, I conjoin teaching/learning with scholarship, research, knowledge exchange, community/ industry/public engagement and widening participation. Furthermore, like the adventurous octopus, TP teachers/learners are exploratory and ‘ill-disciplined’ (Tan and Asherson 2018). Using play and interdisciplinarity, ‘deficits’ become positive action.

The ethos of collage, can-do and curiosity are played out in the Neurodiversity In/& Creative Research Network. The Network was set up to continue conversations and actions started by an art-psychiatry project #MagicCarpet (National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement Culture Change Award 2018) that I led at King’s College London. I invited a #MagicCarpet participant to co-lead the Network. Today, this global alliance embodies bell hooks’ ‘beloved community’ (1996) that affirms — not eradicates — difference. It comprises 360 neurodivergent people, including the inventor of neurodiversity, sociologist Judy Singer. Local and spinoff groups that members lead like the Kansas City League of Autistics and the Scottish Neurodiverse Performance Network empower HE staff and students to connect and advocate for themselves and others. Applying TP’s ‘cross-species’ learning through intersectionality, the Network is an evolving hub, and models what an inclusive teaching/learning ecosystem looks like. Its masterclasses and seminars foster best practices in teaching/learning and research between and beyond CA-HE. HE teachers, students and researchers and professionals aside, members include activists, policy-makers, clinicians, CEOs and entrepreneurs who learn from/with one another as critical friends. Unusually, the Network welcomes self-proclaimed ‘allies’ too, which protects those unable/un-ready to disclose their difference. To counter exceptionalism and racism, which is not uncommon in other disability/neurodiversity-led communities (Barbarin, 2021; Russell, 2020; Mistry, 2019; Tan, 2019; Rashed, 2019), the Network welcomes racially-diverse people, and those with neuro-differences beyond the ‘classical’ remits of neurodiversity like stroke and PTSD.

Established in response to the pandemic, the Network attracted 150 members by April 2020, hinting at how CA-HE has hitherto failed neurodivergent teachers/learners. The Network has ignited pathways to improve teaching/learning practices and cultures, empowered neurodivergent HE stakeholders, and led to further work such as a dance commission ‘Dysco’ for Southbank Centre by a Glasgow PhD student (Watson 2021) and a journal article by a US neuroscientist (Zisk 2021). Members tell their own stories, instead of being ventriloquised, commodified or white-washed by others. Mobilising their new-found confidence, skills and knowledge, members forge new initiatives, and lead further changes at local, institutional and sectoral levels, to collectively make CA-HE and HE more equitable. For instance, a member, as Jisc Head of Strategic Support Unit, founded Jisc’s first ever neurodiversity group, which is now 100 members strong. That group is supported by Jisc’s new EDI director, while the member has gone on to become a Trustee of the National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service. Members will co-produce A Handbook of Neurodiversity and Creative Research (2024) with a major academic publisher, with reviewers describing it as a ‘distinctive’ and ‘valuable’ intervention with a ‘very high scope of impact’ to HE.

Circulation, Courage and Curating Change

Neurodiversity is a subset of biodiversity (Singer 1998); ergo, TP ‘re-pays’ nature and society, prioritising ‘zero waste’ in natural and human resources, and enacts ‘Look, Think, Act’ to ‘sustain reform in teaching/learning ecologies’ (Patterson et al, 2010). To enrich the 3Rs (writing, arithmetic, reading), TP ‘up-cycles’ frameworks like ‘Curiosity, Compassion, Collaboration and Communities’ (Orr 2021), rhizomatic learning (Guerin 2013) and ‘tentacular thinking’ (Haraway 2016). TP seeks to dismantle colonialist ‘monuments’ and master’s narratives (Lorde 1984). Its ‘unruly’ tentacles celebrate ‘multiplicity in knowledge production’ (Zarabadi et al, 2019; Branlat et al, 2022) and, like the audacious octopus and ADHD-er, power towards unknowns. Last but not least, TP is about curating change. ‘Curating’ originated in care, and octopuses have thrived for 300 million years: TP nurtures future-facing models of leadership marrying compassion and vision. I seek to embody such a change-maker in what/how I teach/learn. As an outsider gate-crashing into environments historically shut to others like myself, I use my privilege to open doors for others, and make them co-leaders.

Circulation, Courage and Curating Change are enacted in a new MA Creative Arts Leadership for which I am Programme Leader, to be launched in September 2023 at Manchester Metropolitan University. Prioritising decolonised and environmentally-conscious models of change-making, the MA is with/for/by teachers/learners to generate personal, organisational, and social change, and addresses gaps in current HE offerings in leadership development and arts management/policy. Using examples like MMU alumna artist-turned-suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst, the MA counters the danger of a ‘single story’ (Adichie 2009) of how ‘leadership’ is taught/learnt. The MA entangles creativity with business acumen, sustainability and inclusion.

The mission of the study of art and design is to develop ‘cognitive abilities related to the aesthetic, ethical and social contexts of human experience’ that ‘contributes to society, the economy and the environment, both in the present and for the future’ (QAA 2019). Amid multiple threats to CA-HE, Tentacular Pedagogy’s nine ‘tentacles’ can extend teaching excellence in CA-HE and HE. TP’s ‘three hearts’ of neurodiversity and how it intersects with race and gender, manifested in the examples above as subject and teaching/learning approaches, and in collaborating with neurodivergent teachers/learners, illustrate how a more inclusive CA-HE can foster a legacy of teaching excellence and make HE thrive. 

Dr Kai Syng Tan PhD FRSA SFHEA is an artist, curator, academic, consultant, agitator, change-maker, volunteer and gatecrasher who is known for her ‘long-established expertise in using creative research as a form of critical co-creation of knowledge’ that ‘challenges dominant frameworks in and beyond the academy’ (AHRC review 2021). Her keynote lectures, op-eds, exhibitions, creative interventions and more have been featured at MOMA (New York), BBC, Biennale of Sydney and Tokyo Design Week. She has (co-)led projects with budgets from £0 to £4.8m (opening and closing ceremonies of ASEAN Para Games 2015). Her creative leadership innovations include extending ‘Running Studies’ through her RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale. Apart from being the first artist on the Editorial board of the British Journal of Psychiatry Bulletin, Kai is a trustee board member of Hear Me Out (charity for detained migrants), and was Expert Panel Advisor for Media Authority of Singapore (2007-2012). Having taught/examined/consulted at more than 100 universities worldwide, Kai is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester School of Art.

Kai is grateful for the feedback and critical friendship of Susan Orr,  Stephanie Aldred, Chrissi Nerantzi and Laura Housman in developing aspects of Tentacular Pedagogy


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Education from scratch, or resisting the lure of the oven ready meal

by Karen Gravett

Ready meals can be enjoyable, quick and simple to make. And yet we know that prioritising a diet of oven ready dinners is not really good for us. What does this have to do with education? The educational equivalent of the oven ready meal is the ‘best practice’, the quick fix principle that seduces teachers into thinking that generalised solutions can solve knotty educational challenges.  In 2007, Gert Biesta explained clearly ‘Why what works won’t work’. Biesta’s argument is that generalised strategies for addressing educational challenges are problematic, as such prescriptions for practice severely limit the opportunities for educators to make judgments in ways that are sensitive to and relevant for their own contextualized settings.

Despite Biesta’s wise words, today the pressure upon university educators to fix educational issues – to resolve students’ dissatisfaction with feedback, to ‘solve’ student engagement, remains stronger than ever. Attempts to simply synthesise the findings of educational research are common, and requests that educators provide simple, digestible ‘best practices’ have assumed even greater volume.

It is easy to understand why. Simple solutions that promise ‘quick wins’ are intensely desirable in our busy and competitive sector, where evidencing teaching enhancement really matters. Complex conversations involving theory and nuance? Less so. Like an oven ready lasagne, the best practice solution offers speed, simplicity, and consistency, but perhaps little actual goodness.

But educators also know that the teaching environment is far from consistent. It is rarely simple. Rather, it is messy, emergent, patchy, emotional, material, complex, and shifting moment to moment. Indeed, the limits of context-free ‘best practices’ are only becoming more evident as student and staff populations diversify, and as educators understand more about how to recognise and respond to that diversity. If we take assessment feedback as an example, how can any simple solution claim to offer a context-free best practice? Yes, dialogic feedback has been shown to be useful and powerful, but we cannot simply ask teachers to engage students in dialogue and assume that they will take on board a teacher’s feedback, in order to develop themselves, and improve. There are multiple reasons why dialogue might be inhibited including poor communication skills, a lack of time and space, a lack of motivation, miscommunication, power relations between students and staff of race, gender, class and disability, technological affordances and constraints, and so on. The teacher needs to consider what is taking place within the situated practice (Gravett 2022), as well as their own values as a teacher, making judgments as to how to proceed within that specific interaction. As Sian Bayne and colleagues (2011) explain: ‘best practice’ is a totalising term blind to context – there are many ways to get it right’.

Inevitably, others will pose (at least) two objections to this call to embrace complexity. Firstly, they may say − but what is the point of educational research if it does not generate solutions, solve problems, and create scalable implications that can easily be placed in the educational microwave? I suggest that educational research is about giving colleagues the confidence to ‘educate from scratch’. It encourages teachers to think about the ingredients of teaching and learning. If we think about our example of the student-teacher feedback interaction, then yes dialogue is important, but educators need to take time to look at the ingredients of effective dialogue rather than assuming that meaningful communication is simple and easy to achieve. As Elizabeth Ellsworth explained: ‘Acting as if our classroom were a safe space in which democratic dialogue was possible and happening did not make it so’ (1989, p315). Space, time, relational connections premised on openness and trust, shared understanding, all of these are the ingredients of effective communication. Yes, fostering student engagement is important, but educators need to look at the social and material contexts of the specific class or interaction in order to consider what practices to employ at that moment, and moreover, how to evolve such practices as situations change.

So what does education from scratch mean? It means thinking about:

  • The uncertainty, risk and complexity inherent in educational practices
  • Our own values as teachers and the impact of these values on our teaching
  • The specific sociomaterial environment we are working within, both disciplinary and at the level of the class and interaction. What might be the material or temporal constraints that impact upon our practice?
  • The particular learners that we are working with in that context. What matters to them?
  • How we can evolve our practice as situations change?

The second objection may be: but today’s teachers don’t have time to develop thoughtful, relational pedagogies! I agree that time is often short. Education from scratch might not be easy or quick. But a permanent diet of ready meals, pedagogies bleached of richness and complexity, would be too high a price to pay. Rather, we can learn from educational research, and from the ideas of colleagues, in order to gain insights that direct our own situated judgments. To develop ‘different ways to see’ (Biesta, 2020).

Fortunately, there is a great deal of fantastic, and thoughtful practice in our sector, but we need to continue and expand upon this, inspiring educators to have confidence to explore their own situated learning environments and to value those nuanced, micro-moments of learning and teaching. By broadening our understanding, we can explore a wider range of meaningful, critical and relational pedagogies, that we might be able to use to develop educational interactions that really matter.

References

Bayne, S, Evans, P,  Ewins, R. Knox, J, Lamb, J, Macleod, H, O’Shea, C, Ross, J, Sheail, P and Sinclair, C (2020) The Manifesto for Teaching Online Cambridge: MIT Press

Biesta, G (2007) ‘Why “What Works” Won’t Work: Evidence-based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research’ Educational Theory 57: 1-22

Biesta, G  (2020) Educational Research: An Unorthodox Introduction London: Bloomsbury

Ellsworth, E (1989) ‘Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working Through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy’ Harvard Educational Review 59 (3)

Gravett, K (2022) ‘Feedback Literacies as Sociomaterial Practice’ Critical Studies in Education 63:2 261-274

Gravett, K (2023) Relational Pedagogies: Connections and Mattering in Higher Education London: Bloomsbury

Dr Karen Gravett is Senior Lecturer at the Surrey Institute of Education, where her research focuses on understanding learning and teaching in higher education, and explores the areas of student engagement, belonging, transition, and relational pedagogies. She is Director of the Language, Literacies and Learning research group, Co-convenor of the SRHE Learning, Teaching and Assessment network, and a member of the editorial board for Teaching in Higher Education. Her work has been funded by the Society for Research in Higher Education, the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education, the British Association for Applied Linguistics, the UK Literacy Association, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


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Fun and games – nurturing students’ ‘being’

by Lucy Gill-Simmen and Laura Chamberlain

It is widely known that skills required by employers today are focused less on discipline specific skills and more on personal skills (also referred to as soft skills or human skills). For example, relatively recently, Tracy Brower in Forbes declared empathy to be the most important leadership skill. Other reports, such as those from the World Economic Forum and OECD, cite skills such as critical thinking, creativity, resilience, self-awareness and emotional intelligence among the top ten skills required in today’s workplace. In our changing world, with elevated awareness of issues such as climate change, sustainability, social justice and EDI, this tendency towards the personal skills should come as no surprise. This is because the skills required to address such issues are often human-centred. The gap between higher education and the workplace will only widen should we overlook our role as educators in developing these personal skills in students.

Drawing inspiration from the Dalai Lama who said ‘We are human beings not human doings’, educators need to find the right balance between the disciplinary content of a degree programme where students are ‘knowing and doing’ and the dimension of ‘being’. With a greater focus on ‘being’ which is linked to the development of personal skills, academics are required to embed areas of practice within their subject-specific classes to allow students to hone their skills. This is no easy feat since departure from a curriculum constituting the dissemination of knowledge and information causes consternation and demotivation amongst some academics who feel potentially deskilled. It isn’t far-fetched to imagine faculty declaring ‘we’re not here to teach them to be self-aware’.

There’s some merit in this way of thinking, since indeed we need to take care. Being human or at least openly demonstrating one’s human side in the workplace may come with its downsides too. There’s a viewed yet flawed tension between behaving in ways which show one’s human side and appearing unprofessional, particularly amongst women. The backlash against the Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin who was recently filmed dancing with her friends suddenly brought her professionalism into question. Known for her empathic leadership, this act of having fun became something that went against her. This aligns with the thoughts of some academics who mull over whether sometimes having fun in the classroom just seems wrong.

However, if it is our role to effect change in human beings, we must look beyond disciplinary knowledge and indeed the mode of delivery of knowledge which Freire (1970) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed refers to as banking. We must  ask ourselves how do we nurture student ‘being’? If we equate the development of personal skillswith being and becoming, we need to consider acts which shape and change the world. To do so we can consider the notion of praxis – action which embodies particular qualities.

Praxis is not a new phenomenon; Aristotle posited that praxis “was guided by a moral disposition to act truly and rightly; a concern to further human well-being and the good life”. If we adopt a praxis inquiry model, introducing context and ‘concrete structures’ into our management teaching as espoused by Freire (1972), we must equally consider how to foster the ‘being’ component of praxis. Traditionally, praxis pedagogies are found within disciplines such as nursing, teaching, and social work. We argue, however, that such pedagogies should not only be confined to the realms of human caring professions but should extend beyond and into other professions. Ironically, given the experience of Sanna Marin, even in politics we see the call for more empathic and emotionally aware leadership.

The discipline of business and management presents us with challenges. Given the sheer breadth of the discipline, we cannot always be sure of the contexts and influences that shape and provide sense-making in the world of work encountered by business and management graduates. This is also reflected in the dearth of signature pedagogies in business and management and the lack of definition when considering the ‘concrete structures’ we refer to earlier. Further challenges are presented in business and management, since how do we know what students will ‘be or become’ when they graduate? If a student studies dentistry, they are most likely to become a dentist, if a student studies law, there’s a good chance they’ll become a lawyer. However, graduates of business and management could become consultants, accountants, marketers or project managers to name but a few graduate destinations.

The knowledge that we need to provide to foster ‘being and becoming’ in business and management can appear rather elusive. Not only we, but other scholars too have asked the same question. For instance, Barnett (2009) asks: if a curriculum built on knowledge in higher education can be understood to be an educational vehicle to promote a student’s development, where are the links between knowledge and student ‘being and becoming’?

The meaning of praxis can be considered as ethical, self-aware, responsive, and accountable action and involving the reciprocal of knowing, doing and being (White, 2007). From our perspective,  knowing and doing are taught and assessed through discipline-based teaching and learning activities but this raises the question of how we embed the ‘being’. How can we ensure that business and management students are equipped to ‘be’ competent practitioners?

Although normally firmly benched in human caring professions such as nursing and teaching, we argue that there is a place for praxis pedagogies in business and management. Subscribing to a Habermasian school of thought, praxis requires knowledge of how to be a particular kind of person. In business and management, the particular kind of person is particularly difficult to foresee. Thus, the contextual element is difficult. However, we propose that steps need to be taken in the direction of the ‘being’ element of praxis. One way to do so is by drawing upon creativity and creative pedagogies as a means to developing students’ ‘being-in-the-world’ and to honing the skills leading to creativity growth.

Passive teaching methods, such as rote-memorisation and large-format lectures still dominate academia, despite research calling for more appropriate ways of instruction. This is where current practices diverge from the common mission of developing twenty-first-century skills in students. If learning goals should match teaching and learning activities, it is important to place higher education faculty into the discussion of creativity (Robinson et al, 2018). This is due to the nature of creative pedagogy, which is where to find many components which align with twenty-first-century skills important to future workforce needs. These include critical thinking, problem solving and innovation.

Along with two other colleagues (Dr Artemis Panigyraki and Dr Jenny Lloyd) we recently facilitated a creativity workshop at Warwick Business School in association with the Academy of Marketing. Designed for PhD students and early career researchers, we showcased some examples of embedding creativity into the curriculum. The aim of the workshop was to introduce new academics to innovative ways of teaching and to demonstrate how, through the adoption of different creative pedagogies, students could potentially gain alternative perspectives and views of the world and discover an alternative way of ‘being’. So as not to deviate too far from the academic discipline, we embedded the learning tasks within the discipline of Marketing. In doing so, we demonstrated how one can bring creativity to the classroom whilst still meeting the subject-based learning outcomes.

In line with Daniel Pink’s (2006) work on developing the right side of the brain, or the creative side, the workshop was designed around four different creative areas: the arts, design thinking, play/imagination, and storytelling. For each theme, activities were designed to immerse participants in a creative activity and in so doing allowed them to experience ‘being’ in an alternative and/or imagined world. Examples of activities were to imagine the discipline of Marketing as a song, and to select such a song to add to a Spotify playlist. Some participants found this challenging, others knew immediately which song they would select, despite having never been asked to do this before. They were immediately required to ‘be’ in a different space. Participants were tasked with sketching a product concept for a doorknob using both user-centered design and design-driven innovation. This pushed many participants out of their comfort zone, some declaring they ‘didn’t know how to draw’. Other tasks involved writing captions for The New Yorker cartoons, a form of play which measures whole-minded abilities. Following this task, many participants declared it challenging, whilst a few declared it fun. Specifically, they said coming up with the required elements of a caption such as rhythm, brevity and surprise did not come naturally. Other tasks included building a free-standing tower out of dried spaghetti and writing a story capturing a plot with morals, characters, and conflict. Each task held values that allowed for different aspects of ‘being’.

The characteristics of creative pedagogies which marked the ‘being’ emerged over the course of the workshop. We observed ‘being’ as ‘thinking differently’, ‘being playful’, ‘struggling’, ‘being a child’, ‘being innovative’, promoting changes in behaviours manifesting as sparking the imagination, bringing out the competitive spirit and experiencing joy. Participants were experiencing ‘being’ within the experience of exploration of the unknown. The variety of activities throughout the workshop allowed participants to experience different ways of ‘being-in-the-world’ (Denmead, 2010). Through this process, participants saw themselves in a different way and in a way that signified a change in their receptivity.

Many participants found themselves reverting to being a younger version of themselves as they were asked to think about stories which they enjoyed as a child. This was expanded as they were asked to  write a story; many noted they had not written a story since they were at school. They wrote stories of romance and demonstrated vivid imagination, which had perhaps long been hidden, thus they were ‘being’ in a space of former times, one where child-like imagination was revered. Spaces of struggle, of not knowing, uncertainty, open-endedness, frustration, of joy, and with a friendly, almost childlike competitive spirit were spaces beyond the norms of everyday behaviours and structures. The activities gave participants places in which to operate, to behave and to ‘be’. Participants were able to temporarily suspend ordinary conventions, the boundaries of structural obligation, functional pressures and engage in behaviours whose value was not immediately evident. They broke away from the normal constructed boundaries within which they are expected to exist and behave on a normal day and engaged in play. Many declared the activities as freeing and expressed their views of creativity as relating to freedom, noting they had a choice in how they executed the tasks and also in their outcome. Interestingly, there has been vast philosophical debate around freedom as constituting a significant part of ‘being’.

To develop the human skills sought after in the workplace, ‘being and becoming’ need to be central tenets of a higher education system. There is an inherent need for us to satisfy the third dimension of praxis, this is ‘being’. How do we do this? We do this through promoting different ways of ‘being- in-the-world’ and pushing the boundaries of the norms in higher education. Creativity and creative pedagogies are an effective way of doing this.

Dr Lucy Gill-Simmen is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing & Director of Education Strategy in the School of Business & Management, Royal Holloway, University of London. Follow Lucy via @lgsimmen on Twitter

Professor Laura Chamberlain is Professor of Marketing and Assistant Dean PGT at Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick. Follow Laura via @LMChamberlain on Twitter and @drlaurachamberlain on Instagram

References
Barnett, R (2009) ‘Knowing and becoming in the higher education curriculum’ Studies in Higher Education34(4): 429-440

Denmead, T (2011) ‘Being and becoming: Elements of pedagogies described by three East Anglian creative practitioners’ Thinking skills and Creativity6(1): 57-66

Freire, P (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed Penguin Classics edition 2017

Freire, P (1972) Cultural action for freedom Ringwood: Penguin

Pink, DH (2006) A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Penguin

Robinson, D, Schaap, BM and Avoseh, M (2018) ‘Emerging themes in creative higher education pedagogy’ Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

White, J (2007) ‘Knowing, doing and being in context: A praxis-oriented approach to child and youth care’ Child & Youth Care Forum 36(5): 225-244


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Doctoral Borderlands: an exploration of doctoral education and its possible futures

by Namrata Rao, Anesa Hosein, Rille Raaper, Harry Rolf, Karen Gravett, Karen Smith, Neil Harrison and Susan Carter

At the SRHE conference 2021, we (Karen S, Neil and Susan) facilitated a symposium in two parts on Doctoral Borderlands. Together, the parts gave a guided tour through doctoral borderlands, the metaphor underpinning the Teaching in Higher Education Special Issue: ‘Working in the borderlands: Critical perspectives on doctoral education’ (Carter, Smith & Harrison, 2021). The reference to borderlands, drawing from Gloria Anzaldúa’s (1987) work, emphasised the transitionary and liminal nature of doctoral education, the crossings into the unknown, and the emergence or surfacing of (multiple) identities. In the symposium, ten authors shared overviews of seven of the Special Issue articles as starting points for open discussion around doctoral education and its future possibilities.

This blog post picks up three doctoral borderland trajectories taken by some of the SRHE symposium presenters. First, Karen Gravett starts by looking at how the form of the doctorate is changing and its impact on perceptions of the doctoral journey. Then Namrata Rao, Anesa Hosein and Rille Raaper discuss being, becoming and belonging, particularly in the context of precarity. After this, Harry Rolf considers power in doctoral education, from the starting point of doctoral publishing.

Karen Gravett

Critical perspectives on doctoral education are needed now more than ever. It is increasingly apparent that the prevalence of new routes and possibilities for study, including professional and publication-led doctorates, combined with a competitive academic landscape, have reshaped the doctoral experience in new ways (Gravett, 2021). What it is to be a doctoral student and what it means to do a doctorate is evolving, and traditional stereotypes, of young, full-time, funded students are no longer fit for purpose.

And yet, the literature on doctoral education is rich with metaphors that describe doctoral study as a pathway or trajectory, while institutional rhetoric often evokes ideas of linearity and regularity. In my recent work (Gravett, 2021), I explore the power of these tropes and depictions, in order to ask: what do spatial narratives do? Are conceptions of linear journeys, or pathways from student to academic, from novice to expert, still fit for purpose? I invite readers to think with two of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) theoretical concepts, rhizome and becoming, to foreground the multiple and messy becomings that researchers experience, as they evolve throughout a doctorate and beyond.

In reconsidering narratives of the doctoral journey, I offer an irruption to widely accepted notions of learning as a linear pathway with a fixed end-point, and reflect on how new and traditional forms of doctoral study might be understood differently. Thinking differently about doctoral study offers new opportunities for writing: offering spaces to disrupt the traditional monograph that has dominated the doctorate to date, and openings for intertextuality and connection.

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Just as the form of the doctorate and the pathway through it are changing, the context in which doctorates are done and the impact on doctoral students’ identities are also changing, picked up by Namrata, Anesa and Rille.

Namrata Rao, Anesa Hosein and Rille Raaper

The marketisation of higher education (HE) has seen a growing number of HE staff being employed on short term hourly paid contracts, which has also triggered much of the recent University and College Union (UCU) Four Fights Campaign in the UK. Our paper (Rao, Hosein & Raaper, 2021) explored doctoral students engaged in HE teaching in an era of precarity; within this context of increasing casualisation, the doctoral students, ‘the budding academics’, are seeking ways of getting their foot in the door and ‘becoming’ an academic. This desire for ‘belonging’ in the academy has seen them take up casualised contracts with the hope that they would one day land up a permanent contract.

Aside from the damage often caused by such casualised contracts to their developing professional identity, there is a growing concern that the precarious employment circumstances lead to them developing a fractured ‘cleft’ teacher identity, where they are continuously straddling the demands of being a researcher (as a doctoral student) and being a teacher negotiating the uncertainties created by such working conditions. Doctoral students’ understandings of university teaching are often framed by their own experiences of being a university student. We suggest their teaching should be shaped by a professional development programme. Access to such programmes is limited due to the nature of their casualised contracts and often very disparate depending on the institutional context.

These structural inequalities and precarious support practices compromise candidates’ holistic development as researchers and teachers. It’s more difficult for them to be fully productive university teachers, which in turn has a knock-on impact on the quality of university teaching and their experience as doctoral students. Therefore, there is a pressing need for universities to consider ways in which doctoral students can belong to and become and be (remain) active citizens who are aware of their responsibilities, but whose rights are addressed both as students and aspiring academics.

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Doctoral student engagement with and in the academy is underpinned by power, a theme continued by Harry.

Harry Rolf

The landscape of doctoral education is contradictory and conflicting, shaped by invisible power structures and taken-for-granted practices arising from research performance and productivity measures. An emphasis on publishing in doctoral pedagogy means that this is increasingly a landscape that doctoral students must cross to achieve academic and future career success.

My analysis (Rolf 2021), applying a lens of data feminism to publications by doctoral students at an Australian university, shows a borderland where crossings by students and supervisors were frequent but where few stayed for long. Travellers crossed in teams which over time exhibited different approaches to the practice of publication, from teams led by a strong ego-centric researcher to teams where publication was a collaborative effort, but where power was not evenly distributed. Travelling with an experienced guide provided doctoral students with greater access to networks, and if they travelled frequently, more opportunities to publish along the way.

The analysis raises important questions about power and experience in doctoral supervisory and publishing teams, including questions that go beyond the scope of publication data; for example, what does good collaboration look like in doctoral supervisory teams, how are those doctoral supervisory teams formed, what practices do those supervisors bring, and are more diverse expertise or experience brought to supervisory teams and properly recognised? And looking beyond the immediate supervisory team, how can doctoral students find other networks and teams with the knowledge and tools to help them find safe passage, and success, on their borderland crossing?

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Our 2021 SRHE conference symposium managed to cover many of the uncertainties, transitions, dangers and hopes of doctoral borderlands, doing pretty well at representing the Special Issue, which houses thirteen full articles and two Points of Departure (think-piece provocations) covering a range of topics relating to doctoral education. The Teaching in Higher Education Special Issue, the stimulus papers and the discussion in the SRHE symposium that followed demonstrated the changing landscape of doctoral education in terms of the different forms and format of the doctorate, the context of doctoral study, the nature of doctoral research with research that crosses disciplines and professions, the roles and responsibilities that doctoral students have and the expectations that are placed upon them, and the different backgrounds and multiple identities that doctoral researchers bring to their studies. This changing landscape means that doctoral students have different challenges to negotiate, and that the guides through the landscape, and the guidance and support for doctoral students needs also to change. Such changes can open up new possibilities for future doctoral education, which, as the SRHE symposium showed, will benefit from productive professional conversations about doctoral pedagogy and its development.     

For more information, please contact Dr Karen Smith, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire, email: k.smith27@herts.ac.uk

References

Anzaldúa, G (1987) Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute

Carter, S, Smith, K, & Harrison, N (2021) Working in the borderlands: Critical perspectives on doctoral educationTeaching in Higher Education, 26 (3): 283-292 doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2021.1911098

Deleuze, G, and Guattari, F (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia London: Continuum

Gravett, K (2021) ‘Disrupting the Doctoral Journey: Re-imagining Doctoral Pedagogies and Temporal Practices in Higher Education’ Teaching in Higher Education 26 (3): 293–305 doi:10.1080/13562517.2020.1853694

Rao, N, Hosein, A & Raaper, R (2021) ‘Doctoral Students Navigating the Borderlands of Academic Teaching in an era of Precarity’ Teaching in Higher Education 26 (3): 454–470 doi:10.1080/13562517.2021.1892058 

Rolf, HG (2021) ‘Navigating Power in Doctoral Publishing: A Data Feminist Approach’ Teaching in Higher Education 26 (3): 488–507 doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2021.1892059


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What comes next after Covid 19 in re-setting doctoral education?

by Rosemary Deem

Like many other aspects of higher education teaching, supervising and research worldwide, doctoral education in higher education institutions (HEIs) has been massively affected by the pandemic. The effects include campus closures and lost experimental and fieldwork data, rapid transition to online supervision and viva defences, cancelled or online conferences hampering networking, lack of wellbeing, study progress being hampered by lack of suitable non-campus work spaces, home schooling children and poor or no internet connectivity (Else, 2021 ; European University Association Council for Doctoral Education, 2020 ; Jackman et al, 2021; Levine et al, 2021). As we are still in the throes of the pandemic at the time of writing, it is difficult to know whether some of the changes made in haste to doctoral education, such as remote supervision and examinations, will be permanent or not. Some adaptations, such as online seminars and conferences and a move away from physical international mobility to blended or virtual mobility, will probably continue, as they permit international participation without high costs or environmental damage. The legacy for doctoral researchers caught up in the Coronavirus chaos will certainly live on for quite a while, although hopefully over time the shock of the impact of lockdowns, working from home and universities being very selective over who gets an extension or extra funding may gradually fade.  However, for those with their eye on future academic jobs, the precarity regime of HE posts remains sadly intact in many HE systems (Deem, 2021b). The availability of jobs outside academe has also been affected by the pandemic, as countries struggle to manage politics, promote public health and provide support for the business, public and third sectors.

The experience of doing a doctorate in times of Covid-19 has brought both good and less good elements, from acquiring more resilience and online learning skills to experiencing poverty, poor mental health and having a lack of motivation to finish writing a thesis.  Some supervisors have also struggled to support their doctoral researchers alongside other students and their own research, particularly where HEIs have indicated that doctoral education is not a pandemic priority, a short sighted view sometimes brought about by difficult HEI financial situations and recruitment uncertainty. Despite the avalanche of articles about the Covid-related impact on doctoral education and doctoral researchers submitted to journals during 2020 and 2021, there are still many things we  know less about, such as: how part-time doctoral researchers have fared compared with full-time candidates; how STEM and Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences candidates compare in the obstacles they face; or how the doctoral research experiences of women and people of colour differ from those of men or white doctoral candidates. There has been relatively little investigation about how supervisors have been affected by remote supervision and the pandemic (UK Council for Graduate Education, 2021) compared with the literature on the effects on students. It is also hard to tell at this point whether the percentage of doctoral theses referred for further work, or even failed, has changed, as many of those due to submit in 2020-21 have deferred or interrupted their studies and have not yet been examined. There has been some advice offered to institutions on this (Houston & Halliday, 2021 ) but in quite a few countries, national regulations on doctoral study don’t make flexibility in doctoral submission and examination very easy.

We are also beginning to see some big differences in the coping strategies of HEIs. It appears that countries with high degrees of marketisation in their HE systems, and with a significant dependence on international students for income, have not fared particularly well under Covid (Drayton and Waltmann, 2020b ; Le, 2021; Marinoni, Hillijge, and Jensen, 2020 ; Startz, 2020 ), whereas countries with low degrees of marketisation or with previous experience of campus lockdowns, such as in the SARS epidemic, did better (Jung, Horta, & Postiglione, 2020). Furthermore, doctoral education was already in something of a crisis before Covid, with a long running critique of its failings, ranging across: so-called ‘overproduction’ of doctoral graduates relative to academic jobs (Nerad, 2020); completion and dropout rates; access to doctoral programmes for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds; and quality of doctorates and future employment prospects. The state of mental health amongst doctoral researchers is also now a common concern in many contexts (Deem, 2020a; Hazell et al, 2020; Levecque et al, 2017).  However, tackling all these challenges is not straightforward and there is a tendency to tackle each problem on its own in a single HE system or HEI, without thinking how each different challenge relates to all the others.  

What is needed post-pandemic (assuming the world gets there) is a concerted attempt to undertake, certainly at the institutional level, a more holistic approach, but also an approach which relates to the grassroots as well as institutional hierarchies. Such an approach has already been found to be effective in relation to schemes for increasing the numbers of women who get promoted to full professor (Morley, 2013). This initiative focuses first on looking at and fully supporting the people involved (doctoral researchers and supervisors) whilst ensuring their diversity and wide access to doctoral education for those who could benefit from it. Organisational factors are also important, such as valuing doctoral candidates’ academic and social contribution for its own sake, not as a source of cheap research and teaching labour, making doctoral researchers more visible and more important in their institutions, and ensuring organisational processes and procedures reflect this,. Joined-up change also means taking on board issues related to the kinds of knowledge that are valued in doctoral theses: whether that knowledge is from the global north or south; whether it is interdisciplinary or framed in a single discipline; which language or culture it relates to; and encouraging knowledge which values methodological or empirical foci as much as theoretical knowledge, irrespective of whether or not knowledge has immediate economic or social impact. Such an approach, aligned to a clear strategy and implementation process, could in time transform how doctoral education operates, to everyone’s benefit. This is not a change programme for the faint-hearted but unless something like this is adopted, long after the pandemic is over we will still be talking about doctoral crises and the challenges to be addressed, whilst failing to take a more holistic lens to transforming doctoral education than has so far been the norm in many HE systems and HEIs.  We owe it to our current and future doctoral researchers to attempt to develop a more humanistic and more equality-based approach to doctoral study after the rigours of the Corona virus outbreak.    

SRHE Fellow Rosemary Deem OBE is Emerita Professor of Higher Education Management and Doctoral School Senior Research Fellow, Royal Holloway (University of London), UK. She was the first woman to chair the UK Council for Graduate Education and was a member of three UK Research Assessment Exercise Sub-Panels on Education (1996, 2001, 2008).  An Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences since 2006, she is a co-editor of Higher Education (Springer) since 2013, a member of the Peer Review College of the European Science Foundation and a co-convenor of the Higher Education Network in the European Educational Research Association

References (not embedded via URLs)

Deem, R (2020a) ‘Rethinking doctoral education: university purposes, academic cultures, mental health and the public good’ in Cardoso, S, Tavares, O, Sin, C and Carvalho, T (eds), Structural and Institutional Transformations in doctoral education: social, political and student expectations (pp. 13-42). Cham, Switzerland Palgrave Macmillan/Springer Nature

Deem, R (2021b) ‘The early stage academic and the contemporary university: communities of practice meet managerialism?’ in Sarrico, C, Rosa de Pires, MJ and Carvalho, T (eds), Handbook on Managing Academics Cheltenham Edward Elgar

Marinoni, G., Hillijge, V. t. L., & Jensen, T. (2020 ). The Impact of Covid on higher education around the world:  IAU Global Survey Paris International Association of Universities

Morley, L. (2013). Women and Higher Education Leadership: Absences and Aspirations.

Nerad, M. (2020). Doctoral Education Worldwide:  Three decades of change In M. M. Yudkevich, P. G. Altbach, & H. de Wit (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Doctoral Education Worldwide: A Global Perspective (pp. 33-52). London and Thousand Oaks, California Sage.


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Quality teacher educators for the delivery of quality education

by Desiree Antonio

A spectrum of interesting critical issues related to ‘quality’ were brought to light during the SRHE Academic Practice Network conference on 22-23 June 2021. The conference Qualifying the debate on quality attracted my attention and I was keen to share my perspectives on the implications of having quality teacher educators in order to produce quality classroom teachers.

 My substantive work as an Education Officer, supervising principals and teachers in our schools and secondly as an Adjunct Lecturer teaching student teachers in a Bachelors of Education Programme, positioned me an inside observer and participant in this phenomenon. My doctoral thesis (2020) explored teacher educators’ perceptions about their continuing professional development and their experiences as they transitioned into and assumed roles as teacher educators. Hence, I am quite pleased to write this blog that captures the essence of my presentation from the conference.  

Ascribing the label of “quality” to education has different meanings and interpretations in different conditions and settings. ‘Quality’ depends on geographical boundaries and contexts, with consideration given to quality assurance, regulations and established standards using certain measures (Churchward and Willis, 2018). Attaining ‘quality’ can therefore be elusive, especially when we try to address all the layers within an education system. The United Nations sustainable development goal number 4 is aimed at offering ‘quality’ education for all in an inclusive and equitable climate. But this quality education is to be provided by teachers, with no mention (as is generally the case) of the direct input of teacher educators who sit at the apex of the ‘quality chain’. These teacher educators work in higher education institutions and are tasked with the responsibility of formally preparing quality classroom teachers. The classroom teachers in turn would ensure that our students receive this inclusive equitable quality education within schools and other learning institutions.

Although the lack of attention to teacher educators’ professional development is now receiving more attention, as reported in the literature, this once forgotten group of professionals who make up a distinct group within the education sector need to receive constant support and continuous professional development. This attention will enable  them to offer improved quality service to their student teachers.  Without giving teacher educators the support and attention they deserve, quality education cannot be realised in our classrooms. Sharma (2019) reminds us that every child deserves quality classroom teachers.

Responsibilities of teacher educators

An understanding of what teacher educators are expected to do is therefore critical, if we are to recognize their value in the quality chain. Darling-Hammond (2006) opines that teacher educators must have knowledge of their learners and their social context, knowledge of content and of teaching. Furthermore, Kosnik et al (2015) explain that they should have knowledge of pedagogy in higher education, research and government initiatives. Teacher educators must also have knowledge of teachers’ lives, what it is like to teach children and also the teachers of children; they therefore should have had the experience of being teachers (Bahr and Mellor, 2016). In essence, they should be equipped with teachers’ knowledge and skills, in addition to what they should know and do as teacher educators. It appears that the complexity of teacher educators’ work is usually underestimated and devalued. This is evidenced especially when it is taken for granted that good classroom teachers are suitably qualified to become teacher educators and that they do not require formal training and continued differentiated support as they transition and work as teacher educators in higher education.

Improving the quality of teacher educators’ work   

Targeted continuing professional development (CPD) of different types and forms that address different purposes according to teacher educators’ needs and that of their institutions is suggested. I have recommended (Antonio, 2019) a multidimensional approach to teacher educators’ CPD. This approach takes into consideration forms of CPD (informal, formal and communities of practice); types of CPD (site-based, standardised and self-directed); and purposes of CPD – transmissive, malleable and transformative proposed by Kennedy (2014). Teacher educators must have a voice in determining the combination and nature of their CPD. Notwithstanding, there needs to be a ‘quality barometer’ which gives various stakeholders the opportunity to assist in guiding their development. Their CPD must have relevance in this 21st century era.

Interventions as a necessity

The idea that teacher educators are self-made, good classroom teachers who can transmit these skills and knowledge into higher education institutions without formal training as teacher educators should be examined decisively. Systems need to be established for teacher educators to be formally trained at levels beyond that of ordinary classroom teachers. However, their CPD should be fostered under the experienced supervision of professors who themselves have been proven to be 21st Century aware in the areas of technological pedagogical content knowledge, as well as other soft skills. No one should be left untouched in our quest to providing quality education for all. We must be serious in simultaneously addressing the delivery of quality education at every level of education systems. Our children deserve quality classroom teachers and quality teacher educators hold the key.

Desirée Antonio is Education Officer, School Administration within the Ministry of Education, Sports and Creative Industries, Antigua and Barbuda. She has been an educator for nearly 40 years. Her current work involves the supervision of teachers and principals, providing professional development and contributing to policy development. She has a keen interest in Continuing Professional Development as a strategy that can be used to assist in responding to the ever-changing challenging and complex environment in which we work as educators.

As an Adjunct Lecturer, University of the West Indies, Five Islands Campus, Desirée teaches student teachers in a Bachelors of Education Programme. Her doctoral thesis explored the continuing professional development of teacher educators who work in the region of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Her involvement over the past year in many webinars and workshops with SRHE inspired her to develop and host an inaugural virtual research symposium on behalf of the Ministry of Education in May 2021, with the next to be held in 2022.

References

Antonio, D (2019) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of Teacher Educators (TEs) within the ecological environment of the island territories of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) PhD thesis submitted in accordance with the requirements of the University of Liverpool

Bahr, N and Mellor, S (2016) ‘Building quality in teaching and teacher education’ in Acer, ACER Press. https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=aer

Churchward, P, and Willis, J (2018) ‘The pursuit of teacher quality: identifying some of the multiple discourses of quality that impact the work of teacher educators’ Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 47(3): 251–264 https://doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2018.1555792

Darling-Hammond, L (2006) Constructing 21st-Century Teacher Education. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(3), 300–314. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487105285962

Kennedy, A (2014) ‘Understanding continuing professional development: the need for theory to impact on policy and practice’ Professional Development in Education, 40(5), 688–697 https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2014.955122

Kosnik, C., Menna, L., Dharamshi, P, Miyata, C, Cleovoulou, Y, and Beck, C (2015) ‘Four spheres of knowledge required: an international study of the professional development of literacy/English teacher educators’ Journal of Education for Teaching, 41(April 2015): 52–77 https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2014.992634

Sharma, R (2020) ‘Ensuring quality in Teacher Education’ EPRA International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research (IJMR) 5(10)


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The Digital Tutor: Digital Tools, Relationships and Pastoral Support in Higher Education

by Jodie Pinnell and Sukhbinder Hamilton

If navigating higher education in recent times has taught us anything, it is that digital technology for teaching and learning is no longer an ‘option’ but imperative for an accessible and inclusive learning environment. With the sudden response to Covid-19 leading to remote online approaches overnight, some professionals in higher education have been thrust into a new digital world, and in survival mode, this has naturally prioritised its potential for pedagogy. Unsurprisingly, research has investigated digital technology and pedagogy thoroughly (Williams, 2012), but outside of the remit of formal counselling (Situmorang, 2020) and distance learning (Hilliam and Williams, 2019), the potential for digital tools for pastoral support has yet to be thoroughly explored. This gap in research prompted us to see how digital tools can benefit personal tutors, and more importantly, how these tools can aid relationships, in a climate where students and academic staff find themselves more disconnected than ever before.

Working in the capacity as senior lecturers, predominantly for undergraduate Childhood Studies programmes, the ‘digital awakening’ brought about by Covid-19 has been a welcome development in our practice. For us, it has paved the way for new approaches, new thinking and ultimately innovations in all areas to support students. Even before the unexpected impacts of Covid-19, we had identified a gap in our personal tutor practice at level 4, a crucial time for students to feel supported as they settle into the first year of their undergraduate degrees. For context, within a study skills module, students are allocated a designated academic ‘personal tutor’ to address academic and personal matters. Whilst this module design has historically allowed for a holistic approach to study skills and pastoral support, it has relied on students being confident enough to approach their personal tutors to articulate needs, something that many were often reluctant to do independently.

The nature of the personal tutor and tutee relationship within higher education is one conducted in a climate which is growing ever more ‘consumerist’ in nature; with inflated expectations for ‘value for money,’ and rhetoric defining students as customers (Modell, 2005). With increasing student numbers (Yale, 2019), it is notable that more and more students are demonstrating wellbeing issues (Universities UK, 2020). The personal tutor is the first point of contact for students to discuss concerns, and with a focus on emotional wellbeing through individualised support, the personal tutor role can be increasingly compared to that of a counsellor (Jorda, 2013). A supportive relationship with a personal tutor in the first year of a degree can prepare students for more challenging times (Brinkworth et al, 2009), and in managing transitions, provides a familiar face and a door to knock on. Giving ownership to the student to share information with their tutor is needed, especially where personal or sensitive issues need to be discussed, and the student signposted to necessary services is required.

Despite this, it has been found that students can struggle to understand the role of their personal tutor (Ghenghesh, 2018, p 571), and with diverse student needs, tutors are pressured to help at all costs, with support not appropriately suited to the confinement of ‘office hours’ (Jorda, 2013, p 2595). Other challenges span a general lack of effective tutor training or the ability to meet increasingly complex student needs (Lochtie et al, 2018). With growing workloads, academics already have a plethora of ‘hats’ to wear (Knight, 2002), with competing demands in other areas, causing a conflict for a role that cannot necessarily be time bound.

Within this consumerist culture, and with a focus on the personal tutor role (and its challenges), we decided to do something different. A Google form asking pastoral questions was forwarded to first year students at the start of the academic year, giving them the opportunity to provide a written background about themselves. Without knowing this would prompt a research project and prove to be valuable, the form aimed to ‘break the ice’ between tutor and student, to remedy reports that some students struggled to open up. Without an opportunity for students to discuss their needs, the correct support is difficult to provide. The form’s questions included; How are you currently feeling about enrolling at the university? What are your hopes and fears regarding university life, and the course? What do you expect from the tutors? And importantly (and most effectively) the request to ‘Finish this sentence… I wish my tutor knew…’ (Schwartz, 2016). All answers were collated in a spreadsheet, and tutors were able to find their tutees’ answers through a search function. The aim of the forms was to give personal tutors an insight into the student’s world without requiring them to initiate conversations in a ‘cold’ meeting with a stranger, ‘fast-tracking’ a relationship between personal tutors and their tutees. The form was completely optional and formed the basis of the first tutorial meeting between tutors and students, giving some background, but ultimately allowing students to outline issues that they may struggle to articulate in the first instance.

Following the success of this approach, a second form was issued at the end of the year, with questions about the effectiveness of using the initial form. Both ethical clearance and student consent were sought to publish the findings. All responses from the students who agreed to participate were collated in one single document, and with rich findings two papers emerged, one focusing on the role of the tutor, and the other on the impact of Covid-19, but with threads of student wellbeing and a sense of belonging running through both.

It’s safe to say that the findings have made a real impact on our practice. Firstly, the value of the forms for relationship development were clear, with snapshots illustrating that it allowed students to reflect on how they are feeling and to raise any concerns they had. Linked to wellbeing, the approach meant that students could discuss mental health issues and their home life situations, without needing to ‘physically disclose something to a stranger.’ Linked to expectations surrounding the personal tutor role, it was clear that students saw their tutors as the first person they felt ‘comfortable’ with, and they expected them to learn about their names and backgrounds. Qualities of a tutor were clearly identified as ‘respect,’ ‘empathy’ and ‘trustworthiness,’ and at level 4, this was largely characterised by the transitions associated with first year study. Anxiety, relief, wellbeing and the impact of Covid-19 were threaded through these findings, leading back to the role of the tutor primarily for support.

So, what’s next? For practice, the continued use of the digital forms will remain an integral part of our pastoral strategy but rolled out across other year groups also. The value of the personal tutor role needs to be reiterated across the team and plans are afoot to provide in-house training. This is not just a useful step to take within our establishment but should be the case for higher education in general as it is imperative for successfully supporting students as a first point of contact. Further research is needed in the area of digital tools for pastoral care and their potential for fast-tracking relationship development and ‘breaking the ice.’ Working towards the goal of creating an inclusive learning environment starts with relationships, and with the rise in remote working, we can rely on digital tools to help, harnessing their perceived unlimited potential to enhance the student experience.

Jodie Pinnell is a Senior Lecturer, Course Leader and Senior Tutor in the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK. Follow Jodie on Twitter @jodieEdu

Dr Sukhbinder Hamilton is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth. She is a Co-Convenor for ‘The Women’s Workshop Sociological Collective,’ and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK. Follow Sukh on Twitter @sukhhamilton1

References

Brinkworth, R, McCann, B, Matthews, C and Nordström, K (2009) ‘First-Year Expectations and Experiences: Student and Teacher Perspectives’, Higher Education 58 (2) 157–173. https://DOI:10.1007/s10734-008-9188-3  

Ghenghesh, P (2018) ‘Personal Tutoring From the Perspectives of Tutors and Tutees’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42 (4), 570-584. DOI: https://10.1080/0309877X.2017.1301409

Hilliam, R and Williams, G (2019) ‘Academic and pastoral teams working in partnership to support distance learning students according to curriculum area’, Higher Education Pedagogies, 4 (1) 32-40 https://doi.org/10.1080/23752696.2019.1606674

Jorda, JM (2013) ‘The Academic Tutoring at University Level: Development and Promotion Methodology Through Project Work’,  Social and Behavioral Sciences 106 (1) 2594- 2601

Knight, P (2002) Being a Teacher in Higher Education  Buckingham: SRHE Open University Press

Lochtie, D, McIntosh, E, Stork, A, and Walker, BW (2018) Effective Personal Tutoring in Higher Education. Critical Publishing

Modell, S (2005) ‘Students as Consumers? An Institutional Field‐Level Analysis of the Construction of Performance Measurement Practices’ Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal 18 (4) 537-563 https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570510609351

Schwartz, K (2016) I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids Da Capo Lifelong

Situmorang, D (2020) ‘Online/Cyber Counseling Services in the COVID-19 Outbreak: Are They Really New?’ Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling 74(3) 166–174

Universities UK (2020) Coronavirus (Covid-19) https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/covid19

Williams, J (2012) Technology Education for Teachers BRILL

Yale, AT (2019) ‘The Personal Tutor-Student Relationship: Student Expectations and Experiences of Personal Tutoring in Higher Education’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43 (4), 533-544, https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1377164


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Offering a curriculum change evaluation tool

by Camille Kandiko Howson and Martyn Kingsbury

This blog offers an overview of a curriculum evaluation tool, part of a recently published article ‘Curriculum change as transformational learning’, in Teaching in Higher Education.

A decade ago, one of us led a strand of work exploring global best practice in whole-institution curriculum change, as part of a wider Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) project. The resulting book, Strategic Curriculum Change, identified that while huge amounts of time and money were spent doing large-scale curriculum change, as well as vast costs on the subsequent marketing of it, next to nothing was invested in evaluating it.

One of the main challenges is that while a curriculum change initiative starts off as a separate project, it eventually becomes business as usual. Such change efforts often come at a high political cost as well, with senior leaders often moving on and leaving the implementation to others. Many efforts never really get off the ground, instead lingering and taking on board new ideas, blending the old and the new. These may water down the original vision and drive for change, further hindering evaluation.

Evaluating change

We have recently had the opportunity to remedy this gap, through evaluating a whole-institution curriculum review project, part of a comprehensive nine-year investment plan to reposition teaching and learning within an institution. While it is easy to check the administrative side of a change effort (were boxes ticked, forms filled out), analysing the whether the ethos, purpose and guiding principles were adopted requires a much more nuanced approach.

We designed a multi-stage evaluation plan to explore to what extent were the principles of a Learning and Teaching Strategy embedded within new curriculum structures, as well as the impact on personal and disciplinary culture.

This output provides insight into the first stage of curriculum change – taking new ideas and pedagogical approaches and building them into the bricks and mortar of the educational experience and into the minds and practices of those delivering the curriculum. This approach allows for evaluating to what extent a change effort is just words on a slick new webpage, or whether there has been a transformation of the curriculum.

The review in context

The review is based in a highly devolved, mid-size urban research-intensive institution in the UK. The institutional change programme is based on four pillars:

1) Assessment Reform: A review of curricula with the objective of reducing over-assessment

2) Active Learning: An evidence-based transformation of pedagogy, to make teaching more discovery-based

3) Diversity and Inclusion: The fostering of an inclusive and diverse culture and sense of belonging

4) Digital and Technology Enhanced Learning: The development of online and digital tools to enhance curricula, pedagogy and community

We evaluated the degree of departmental engagement with the institution-wide curriculum review policy through a discourse analysis of three sources: 1) a public Learning and Teaching Strategy; 2) internal Curriculum Redesign Forms, the quality assurance process stating changes, rationale and engagement; and 3) external Programme Specifications, detailing the educational offer for prospective students.

The evaluation tool

We designed an evaluation rubric, and in the paper we cover two aspects of it. The first explores engagement with the four pillars of the Strategy in the Curriculum Redesign Forms, through the adoption of language, intent and application, resulting in 12 indicators. This allowed us to evaluate the degree to which words and meaning of the Strategy were embedded within the new curriculum structures of the departments.

We also explored the alignment of the Curriculum Redesign Forms and the Programme Specification, focusing on the sections on Programme Overview, the Learning Outcomes, the Learning and Teaching Approach and the Assessment Strategy. This led to another 16 indicators. This offered insight into the extent the internal changes had made it into the public ‘offering’ of the course.

These 28 indicators were judged on a scale of Absent, Vague, Implicit, Present, Explicit. Scores were assigned and each department in the institution was reviewed by the researchers. We found varying engagement across the pillars of the Strategy and the challenge of applying principles in practice. We identified three different patterns of engagement across departments, with ‘active’ departments integrating the aims of the Strategy with disciplinary knowledge and pedagogy, ‘engaged’ departments adopting much of intent of the strategy, and group of ‘passive’ departments with minimal engagement and a focus on structural changes.

We hope this research and evaluation tool help others conduct evaluation of curriculum change. We found this approach uncovered both structural and cultural change. This is just the start of our research on curriculum change, and we hope it kickstarts other curriculum change research and evaluation, whether at the institution, faculty or departmental level.

SRHE member Dr Camille Kandiko Howson is Associate Professor of Education in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship at Imperial College London. Follow Camille on Twitter @cbkandiko

SRHE member Professor Martyn Kingsbury is Director of the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship at Imperial College London.


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In search of the perfect blend – debunking some myths

by Ling Xiao and Lucy Gill-Simmen

A blended learning approach has been adopted by most UK universities in response to the Covid pandemic. Institutions and higher education educators have become fully committed to and invested enormous resources in delivering such an approach. This has helped to maintain a high quality education and to some extent, to mitigate the potential dire impact of the pandemic on the students’ learning experience. This approach has no doubt accelerated a reshaping of pedagogic approaches, facilitating deep learning, autonomy, personalised learning and more. With the rapid pace of the UK’s vaccine rollout, and the semi promise by the UK Government that we’ll be back to some kind of normal by the end of June, there is hope for a possible return to campus in September, 2021.  As a result, this now marks a time when we need to reflect on what we have learned from the blended learning approach and figure out what to take forward in designing teaching and learning post-pandemic, be it hybrid or hyflex or both.

The Management Education Research Group (MERG) in the School of Business and Management at Royal Holloway, University of London recently held a symposium on ‘Reflecting on Blended Learning, What’s Next?’. It showcased blended learning examples from various universities across the UK and was followed by a panel discussion where we posed the question: what worked and what didn’t work? We found that some of our previous assumptions were brought into question and a number of myths were debunked.

Myth 1: Pre-Recorded videos should be formal and flawless

Overnight, and without any training, educators took on the role of film creators, film editors and videographers. Spending hours, days, weeks and even months developing lecture recordings from the confines of our home working spaces we were stopping, starting, re-starting, editing out the slightest imperfection. It has to be perfect, right? Not so fast.

For many institutions, recorded video is the primary delivery vehicle for blended learning content, with academics pre-recording short presentations, lectures and informal videos to complement text-based information and communication. Many of us postulated that a formal and meticulous delivery style for pre-recorded videos is required to help to maintain high quality educational materials and for students to perceive us as professionals. Academics’ personal experiences however suggest it is vital to keep the human elements, as students enjoy and engage better with a personalised delivery. A personalised style helps to build relationships with students which then provide foundations of learning. Mayer (2009) describes it as a personalisation principle of learning through video and recommends that a conversation style is preferential to a formal style for learning. This also resonates with recent insights from Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, who reflects in her webinar on the power of teaching with vulnerability in COVID-19. She explains the importance of being open, honest and transparent with students and sharing one’s own human side in order to strengthen the educator-learner bond.

Myth 2: Students enjoy learning from the comfort of their homes

Blended learning empowers students to become autonomous learners, since they can engage with their courses when real-time contact with lecturers is not possible. However, such autonomy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and turns out to be a lonely road for many students. Instead of relishing staying at home and learning when they want, some students declare they miss the structure, the sense of community and the feeling of belonging they associate with attending university in person.

Universities are more than places for learning, they serve as the centre of their communities for students. Students not only learn directly from the education but also, just as much, from interaction and collaboration with lecturers or their fellow classmates. It emerged in conversation between students and faculty that students felt it generally took longer to establish a sense of community in an online class than in a traditional face-to-face classroom but that it could be achieved. So, it’s up to us as educators to foster a sense of community amongst online learners.

Central to learning community is the concept of cooperative learning, which has been shown to promote productivity, expose students to interdisciplinary teams, foster idea generation, and to promote social interaction (Machemer, 2007). One such technique is to introduce collaborative learning opportunities, and those that reach beyond online group work and assessment – which in itself may prove problematic for learners. Instead, educators should look to develop co-creation projects such as wikis or blogs where students can come together to cocreate content together. Social annotation platforms such as Google Docs and Padlet enable students to share knowledge, develop the understanding of learning objects through collaborating on notes, commenting specific parts of materials, etc (Novak et al, 2012; Miller et al, 2018). Padlet for example has proved to be particularly popular with students for collaborative learning given its ease of use.

Myth 3 :  It makes sense to measure student engagement merely by participation metrics

After months of preparation and instructional design and preparing the perfect learning journey for students, we tend to expect students to learn and to engage in a way that we as educators perceive to be optimal for fulfilment of learning outcomes.

We all know that students learn and engage in many different ways, but we often find ourselves trawling the data and metrics to see whether students watched the videos, engaged in the readings we provided, posted on the fora we clearly labelled and participated in the mini quizzes and reflection exercises we created. However, as our hearts sink at what appears to be at times a relatively low uptake, we jump to the conclusion that students aren’t engaging. Here’s the thing:  they are, we just don’t see it. Engagement as a construct is something far more complex and multi-faceted which we can’t necessarily measure using the report logs on the VLE.

Student engagement is often labelled the “holy grail of learning” (Sinatra, Heddy and Lombardi, 2015: 1) since it correlates strongly with educational outcomes, including academic achievement and satisfaction. This can therefore lead to a level of frustration on the part of educators when engagement appears low. However, engagement comes in many forms, and in forms which are often not directly visible and/or measurable. For example, cognitive, behavioural and emotional engagement all have very different indicators which are not immediately apparent. Hence new ways of evaluating of student engagement in the blended learning environment are needed. Halverson and Graham (2019) propose a possible conceptual framework for engagement that includes cognitive and emotional indicators, offering examples of research measuring these engagement indicators in technology mediated learning contexts.

Myth 4: Technology is the make or break for blended learning

The more learning technologies we can add to our learning design, the better, right? Wrong. Some students declared the VLE has too much going on; they couldn’t keep up with all the apps and technologies they are required to work with to achieve their learning.

Although technology clearly plays a key role in the provision of education (Gibson, 2001; Watson, 2001; Gordon, 2014), it is widely acknowledged that technology should not determine but instead complement theories and practices of teaching. The onset of Covid-19 has shifted our focus to technology rather than pedagogy. For example, educators felt an immediate need for breakout room functionality: although this can be a significant function for discussion, this is not necessarily the case for disciplines such as accounting, which requires students continuously to apply techniques in order to excel at applied tasks. Pedagogy should determine technology. The chosen technology must serve a purpose and facilitate the aim of the pedagogy and should not be used as bells and whistles to make the learning environment appear more engaging. In our recent research, we provide empirical evidence for the effective pedagogical employment of Padlet to support learning and engagement (Gill-Simmen, 2021). Technology has an impact on pedagogy but should not be the driver in a blended or hybrid learning environment. Learning technologies are only applicable and of value when the right content is presented in right format and right time.

In summary, we learned these lessons for our future approach to hybrid learning:

  1. Aim for ‘human’ not perfection in instructional design
  2. Students don’t want to learn alone – create opportunities for collaborative learning
  3. Student engagement may not always be measurable – consider tools for assessing emotional, cognitive and behavioural engagement
  4. Technology should support pedagogy, not vice versa – implement only those technologies which facilitate student learning

SRHE member Dr Ling Xiao is the Director of MERG and a Senior Lecturer in Financial Management at Royal Holloway, University of London.  Follow Ling via @DrLingXiao on Twitter.

SRHE member Dr Lucy Gill-Simmen is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Royal Holloway, University of London and Program Director for Kaplan, Singapore. Follow Lucy via @lgsimmen on Twitter.

References

Gill-Simmen, L. (2021). Using ‘Padlet’ in Instructional Design to Promote Cognitive Engagement: A Case Study of UG Marketing Students, (In Press) Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

Machemer, P.L. (2007). Student perceptions of active learning in a large cross-disciplinary classroom, Active Learning in Higher Education, 8(1): 9-29.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press (2nd edn).

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SRHE News on teaching and learning

By Rob Cuthbert

One of the benefits of SRHE membership is exclusive access to the quarterly newsletter, SRHE News, archived at https://www.srhe.ac.uk/publications/. SRHE News typically contains a round-up of recent academic events and conferences, policy developments and new publications, written by editor Rob Cuthbert. To illustrate the contents, here is part of the January 2021 issue which covers Teaching and Learning.

Academic development and Pro VC roles can go together

Fiona Denney (Brunel) reported her research in International Journal of Academic Development (online 13 December 2020) based on interviews with four Pro VCs with academic development backgrounds: “Over the past two years, four research-intensive universities in the UK have appointed senior academic leaders from academic development backgrounds, a new phenomenon in this sector of UK higher education that may suggest a changing pattern. This study interviewed these four leaders to explore what the appointment means for their academic identity. The interviewees identified internal and external drivers for change and noted their backgrounds as academic developers made their routes into these senior roles different from their peers. For this reason, their ‘academic credibility’ was critical in order to implement culture change effectively.”

How metrics are changing academic development

Roni Bamber (Queen Margaret University) blogged for Wonkhe on 18 December 2020 about her monograph for SEDA, Our days are numbered. Great title, good read.

SoTL in action

The 2018 book edited by Nancy Chick was reviewed by Maik Arnold (University of Applied Sciences, Germany) for Arts and Humanities in Education (online 12 October 2020).

Innovations in Active Learning in Higher Education

The new book by SRHE members Simon Pratt-Adams, Uwe Richter and Mark Warnes (all Anglia Ruskin) grew out of an Active Learning conference at Anglia Ruskin University, leading to a book which, in the words of the foreword by Mike Sharples (Open University) “shows how to put active learning into practice with large cohorts of students and how to grow that practice over many years. The authors come from a variety of institutions and discipline areas … What they have in common is a desire to improve student engagement, experience and outcomes, through active learning approaches that work in practice and are scalable and sustainable.” Free to download from the publishers, Fulcrum.

Now that’s what I call a publishing event

The new book by Keith Trigwell (Sydney) and Mike Prosser (Melbourne) Exploring University Teaching and Learning: Experience and Context, was launched on 10 December 2020, more than 20 years since Understanding Learning and Teaching appeared in 1999. The book focuses on university teachers’ experience of teaching and learning, discussing the qualitative variation in approaches to university teaching, the factors associated with that variation, and how different ways of teaching are related to differences in student experiences of teaching and learning. The authors extend the discussions of teaching into new areas, including emotions in teaching, leadership of teaching, growth as a university teacher and the contentious field of relations between teaching and research.

Psychological contract profiling for managing the learning experience of higher education students

László Horváth (ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest) used a service marketing approach for his article in the European Journal of Higher Education (online 27 January 2020): “Combining … six factors for expectations (personalization, development of soft skills, competent teachers, labour market preparedness, support, flexibility) and three factors of obligations (performance and activity, preciseness and punctuality, obedience and respect), we created Psychological Contract Profile Clusters (outcome-centred, teacher-centred, learner-centred, learning-centred, content-centred and self-centred students).”

“Grade inflation remains ‘a significant and pressing issue’”

That was how the OfS chose to present its analysis of degree outcomes published on 19 November 2020, quoting OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge. The report itself said the rate of increase in ‘grade inflation’ had slowed in 2018-2019, and buried in the text was this: “It is not possible to deduce from this analysis what factors not included in the modelling (such as improvements in teaching quality, more diligent students or changes to assessment approaches) are driving the observed changes in degree attainment.” No recognition by OfS of the research by Calvin Jephcote (Leicester), SRHE members Emma Medland and Robin Lygo-Baker (both Surrey) published in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, which concluded: “The results suggest a much more positive and proactive picture of a higher education system that is engaged in a process of continuous enhancement. The unexplained variables, rather than automatically being labelled as grade inflation, should instead point to a need to investigate further the local institutional contextual factors that inform grade distribution. The deficit lens through which ‘grade inflation’ is often perceived is a damaging and unhelpful distraction.” Perhaps Nicola Dandridge was auditioning for Queen of Hearts in the OfS Christmas panto: “Sentence first, verdict afterwards”.

Jephcote, Medland and Lygo-Baker had also blogged for Wonkhe on 14 October 2020 about their research: “Evidence for why grades are trending upwards, or the less loaded phrase of grade improvement, reveal a complex landscape. According to our recent research, the most influential determinants of grade improvement were shown to be the geographic location of an institution, research output quality and the increasing quality of student cohorts – although even this variable was determined on grade entry points, which the recent A Level debacle in the UK has pulled into question. … What this evidence reveals is that a combination of student aptitude, and changes to the structure and quality of UK higher education, appear to be largely accountable for graduates attaining higher grades. It also, importantly, points to the problems associated with our criterion-referenced approaches to assessment being critiqued using a norm-referenced rationale.”

Peer review of teaching in Australian HE: a systematic review

The article by Alexandra L Johnston, Chi Baik and Andrea Chester (all Melbourne) was in Higher Education Research and Development (online 18 November 2020) “A thematic synthesis revealed teaching development outcomes gained through peer review of teaching span factors at organisational … program … and individual … levels. Organisational factors included disciplinary context, program sustainability, collegiality and leadership. Program factors included framework, program design, basis of participation, observation, feedback and reflective practice. Factors at the individual level included prior experience and participants’ perceived development requirements.”

What do undergraduate students understand by excellent teaching?

SRHE member Mike Mimirinis (West London) published the results of his SRHE-funded research in Higher Education Research and Development (online 21 November 2020): “This article explores undergraduate students’ conceptions of what constitutes excellent teaching. … semi-structured interviews with students at two English universities yields five qualitatively different conceptions of excellent teaching. In contrast to the current intense policy focus on outcome factors (eg graduate employability), students predominantly discern process factors as conducive to excellent teaching: how the subject matter is presented, what the lecturer brings to the teaching process, how students’ personal understanding is supported, and to what extent the questioning and transformation of disciplinary knowledge is facilitated. More importantly, this study demonstrates that an expansion of students’ awareness of the nature of teaching is internally related to the expansion of their awareness of the nature of disciplinary knowledge.”

The German sense of humour

The article in Studies in Higher Education (online 3 June 2019, issue 2020:12) was based on two large surveys of how teachers used humour in their teaching, and how students responded. It seems to come down to what the teachers meant by using humour. The research was by Martin Daumiller and three other colleagues at Augsburg.

Teaching in lifelong learning: A guide to theory and practice

The third edition was published in 2019, edited by James Avis, Roy Fisher and Ron Thompson (all Huddersfield).

A conceptual framework to enhance student learning and engagement

Alice Brown, Jill Lawrence, Marita Basson and Petrea Redmond (all Southern Queensland) had an article in Higher Education Research and Development (online 28 December 2020) about using course learning analytics (CLA) and nudging strategies, based on “a 12-month research project, as well as by the theoretical perspectives presented by communication and critical literacies. These perspectives were applied to develop a conceptual framework which the authors designed to prioritise expectation management and engagement principles for both students and academics. The article explains the development of the framework as well as the elements and key communication strategies it embodies. The framework contributes to practice by explaining and justifying the accessible, time-efficient, student-focused approaches that can be integrated simply into each course’s online learning pedagogy to support both academics’ and students’ engagement.”

Rob Cuthbert is the editor of SRHE News and Blog, emeritus professor of higher education management, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and Fellow of SRHE. He is an independent academic consultant whose previous roles include deputy vice-chancellor at the University of the West of England, editor of Higher Education Review, Chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education, and government policy adviser and consultant in the UK/Europe, North America, Africa, and China. He is current chair of the SRHE Publications Committee.