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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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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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The varieties of online learning experiences

by JJ Sylvia IV

This is one of a series of position statements developed following a conference on ‘Building the Post-Pandemic University’, organised on 15 September 2020 by SRHE member Mark Carrigan (Cambridge) and colleagues. The position statements are being posted as blogs by SRHE but can also be found on The Post-Pandemic University’s excellent and ever-expanding website. JJ Sylvia’s statement can be found here.

In the spring of 2020, K-12 and higher education classes around the world shifted online in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Both students and instructors were forced to quickly adapt to these circumstances even though many had never previously taken an online course or taught an online course. Throughout spring and summer, data collection and reporting suggested that students were not happy with this transition online and may not return for the fall semester if courses were not in person. University administrators faced a difficult balancing act between protecting the health of students, faculty, and staff, and making sure that dropping enrolment did not financially devastate universities. 

For this presentation I will share the results of this process at my institution, Fitchburg State University. As of 2019, there were approximately 3,400 undergraduate students and 1,200 graduate students. Approximately half of the undergraduates normally live on campus. The graduate programs are largely online masters programs. This analysis is based on quantitative and qualitative analysis of the following data: a survey sent to all students just before the end of the spring 2020 semester (n=2760); an end-of-semester feedback survey for my classes at the end of the spring 2020 semester (n=12); feedback collected from faculty members about their technology needs by the faculty union and members of the Technology Advisory Committee; feedback collected by peer mentors from all first-year students in October 2020; and individual conversations with students and advisees.

In the campus-wide survey, 69.7% of students agreed or strongly agreed that the university had done a good transitioning to the remote delivery of learning and services in response to COVID-19. Students reported that their class content was delivered via online synchronous classes (60%), online asynchronous (75%), conference call (8%), email (46%), and other (5%). Totals are greater than 100% because students could select multiple options. I served as a member of our university’s Technology Advisory Committee, and one concern that was raised repeatedly by faculty members was that some classes faced larger hurdles in being adapted for online teaching, which included art courses (including film/video and game design) and science labs. For this reason, we included a survey question for students about how easy it had been for them to perform a variety of assignment types online. The results are presented in Figure 1. 

Student responses generally reflected faculty concerns, in that writing and quiz-based assignments were easier for students than more project-based assignments. In my own student evaluations, I solicit feedback about specific tools and strategies that worked well for students across all of their classes. In responding about specific tools, the vast majority of students thought that the social annotation tool used for course readings (which in my class was already in use before the pandemic) was what worked best. This was followed closely by Zoom and Google Meet with some disagreement in preference over these two platforms. In terms of strategies, most students reported that having optional synchronous check-ins was the pedagogical strategy that worked best for them, while several reported preferring synchronous and asynchronous approaches. This response was perhaps the most surprising to me, as I held optional synchronous sessions for my classes, and only about 2-4 students per week (out of about 75) attended these sessions.

Several questions were geared toward planning ahead for the fall semester. The campus survey asked students which factors were having an influence on their thoughts about whether or not to return in the fall semester. The highest-ranked results were financial concerns (40%), uncertainty with what the university is doing (38%), quality of academic experience in the spring semester (35%), change employment (31%), and fear of taking online classes (31%). Students were able to select more than one option, allowing it to total to greater than 100%. Qualitative comments also indicated that most students supported face-to-face instruction over remote instruction. This feedback, along with national reporting, guided the administration’s planning to include in-person classes for the fall. In my student evaluations, I asked students what advice they would give their professors for the fall semester if some or all of the classes needed to be taught online. The following were representative comments:

  • “Other classmates have poor or no internet at their homes and have to find places to do their work, or live in toxic environments which may affect how much work that they can do at home and don’t feel comfortable disclosing that information to their professors.”
  • “Be patient with us, we’re trying to balance our personal lives with school, and it’s much harder when it’s all online and our situation at home isn’t the greatest. If we’re used to being in a real classroom and suddenly throw into 100% online classes, bear with us. We know you’re learning too.”
  • “Be flexible. Online learning is very difficult for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.”

I should note that, while the university was not able to provide tools to every student, it did secure enough Chromebooks and hotspots to meet the needs of every student who made such a need known. These were loaned to students at no-cost. 

Guided by this feedback, faculty were given wide discretion in choosing how to offer courses for the fall semester. Several new distinctions were created to allow for greater flexibility in course offerings and encourage even partial in-person offerings. Previously classes were designated as being in-person, online, or hybrid. For the fall, “online” was designated to mean fully asynchronous, while the category of “onsync” was added for fully online courses that would require synchronous attendance via video. Finally, “hybrid” was expanded to encompass several different approaches, which included options such as:

  • Everyone attending in-person one day per week and online the other day
  • Half of the students attending in person on one day and onsync the other day, alternating days
  • Allowing students to choose on a class-to-class basis whether to attend in-person or onsync. 

Faculty were also able to develop additional approaches to hybrid options if those worked better for them. In partnership with our IT department and the Center for Teaching and Learning, faculty-led professional development on digital tools and pedagogy was held throughout the summer. While helpful, these sessions did sometimes highlight competing tools. For example, Blackboard has been the standard learning management system for the university for many years. However, in the fall of 2019, we transitioned to the Google Education platform for email and the rest of the G Suite tools. This opened the option to use Google Classroom in addition to or instead of Blackboard, and many faculty members had plans to try this new tool for the first time in the fall of 2020.

There is evidence that suggests additional scrutiny may need to be given to results that showed a student preference for in-person learning. While students certainly have that preference, it is not clear that this preference was expressed with a full understanding of what socially distanced and hybrid classrooms would look like in practice or of what the public health would look like in the fall. As we approached the beginning of the fall semester, many faculty reported receiving emails from students asking if they could complete in-person or hybrid classes completely remotely. Although only anecdotal evidence has been collected on this issue, it does suggest that perhaps while many students do ultimately prefer in-person learning, they do not prefer it in the limited manner that is possible during an ongoing pandemic. Further research that delves deeper into the question would be helpful. 

This semester, student feedback from freshman via peer mentors as well as informal feedback I’ve collected from upperclassmen indicates that somewhat overwhelmed students are struggling with managing the wide variety of different tools and platforms being used across their classes. For example, there remains confusion about when classes are meeting online versus in-person and where to access links for these meetings. Some have reported that these plans have changed with short notice as well. Other students reported difficulty accessing e-books, online videos, and other tools because of software conflicts. For asynchronous courses, some students felt they lacked support.

In conclusion, because students expressed a strong preference for in-person learning, we opted for maximum flexibility that would allow those professors who were willing to do so to offer some in-person instruction. However, this led to an array of options that continue to be confusing to students. This expansion of services that needs monitoring by students is layered on top of an already scarce attention economy. Even before the pandemic, students reported that the amount of email that they received from various individuals, organizations, and clubs across campus was too much to properly manage. Now, students are facing uncertain and challenging circumstances during a pandemic that continues unabated in the United States. 

At the same time, they are by necessity learning to manage an array of new platforms and tools, while also adapting to time-management strategies that require even higher self-regulation. While most instructors are able to choose one set of tools and deploy those across all of their courses, students are navigating a vast array of platforms and tools that create a variety of online learning experiences that adds to the amount of information that must be learned and managed. This suggests that in the future, some attention should be given to the tension between faculty’s academic freedom to select tools and the difficulty students face in learning and using multiple tools and learning management systems while simultaneously juggling stress related to learning from home. It is also worthwhile to revisit student preferences for online vs. in-person learning in light of their experiences in the fall and the ongoing pandemic.


JJ Sylvia IV is an Assistant Professor in Communications Media at Fitchburg State University. His research focuses on critical data studies, the philosophy of communication, and digital pedagogy. Using the framework of posthumanism, he explores how the media we use contribute to our construction as subjects. He brings an affirmative and activist approach to contemporary data studies that highlights the potential for big data to offer new experimental approaches to our own processes of subjectivation. He lives in Worcester, MA with his wife and two daughters


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Balancing courage and compassion in research-based learning

by Helen Walkington

This blog was first published by Teaching-Focused in HE: the GEES Network, a teaching-focused network for Geography, Earth and Environmental Science academics, and it is reproduced with their permission. Helen Walkington is co-convenor of the SRHE Academic Practice Network.

In Tuesday’s ‘Environmental Hazard Management’ class, live on Zoom, I did a little experiment with my students. In one hand I held a juggling ball (new lockdown skill) and in the other a very ripe tomato. I said that developing resilience is a key concept in disaster management. I asked “If I squeeze the juggling ball and the tomato, which do you feel would best demonstrate a resilient response?” Of course, in wanting them to engage, I asked if they would like me to enact the thought ‘experiment’ (cereal bowl and kitchen roll under the desk at the ready). Once the juggling ball bounced back and the tomato went almost everywhere except the bowl, I made my point about the longevity of tomato seeds and different, sometimes unexpected types of resilience.

I suspect that I’m not alone in having chosen an academic career, at least in part, because I value autonomy. The freedom to pursue research that I find interesting, to advance a discipline that I feel passionate about, and to help share this journey with my undergraduate students is energising, even if it ends up being quite messy at times. In Higher Education we have a relatively high degree of control over how we provide learning opportunities to our students. When tasked with teaching ‘research methods’ for instance, we can choose whether to do this by providing lectures, or directing students through research projects so they can ‘learn by doing,’ or offering even greater freedom to learn by allowing students to take control of generating research questions, designing and carrying out investigations themselves. We probably deliver all three approaches progressively, as a team, across the course of a Geography, Earth and Environmental Science programme. 

Working with students who are engaged in research, sometimes for the first time as undergraduates, is always going to be a careful balancing act. On the one hand, offering students the freedom to pose their own research questions, with the associated authenticity of potential failure, might be considered a courageous pedagogy. On the other hand, we have to consider how students might react to having made mistakes, and be compassionate as they grapple with the potential for creating new knowledge (either new to themselves or new to society) through discovery. Learning by doing research requires emotional investment and resilience, an experience which unites staff (faculty in the US) and students. We can perhaps empathise with students because we share this experience with them, even though we are in a different position, ultimately being judged on the way we communicate our research. For me the cognitive involvement, emotional buy-in and desire for students to succeed has shifted my practice of dissertation and independent study supervision into mentoring. I am acknowledging the ‘whole student’ (Hill et al, 2019).

This aligns very much with Thiry and Laursen (2011), who suggested that academic (faculty) mentors to undergraduate researchers perform three supportive roles: professional socialization, intellectual support and personal/emotional support. These complementary supports acknowledge the importance of working with students to explain why they are engaging in research, supporting their cognitive development, but also acknowledging their emotional needs. The need for a balance between courage and compassion in our practice is clear. However, add to this balancing act escalating concerns about declining levels of student wellbeing (IPPR, 2017) and we begin to appreciate the weight of responsibility for successfully maintaining the balance in our own practice between courageous pedagogy and compassionate pedagogy. Can we still judge securely how far we can draw students ‘to the edge of their ability’ (as one expert mentor put it) and challenge them, when they are self-isolating in student accommodation and can’t collect physical data, get onto campus or access the library? (Using a metaphor, maintaining this balance might feel like walking a tight rope, but if you’ve been working on your balance through yoga during lockdown, then let’s say it’s across Niagara gorge, just to make you feel more alive). By providing all three of Thiry and Laursen’s supports as a research mentor, we hope to open a productive, liminal space for contemplation to our student mentees. My hope is that my students will connect their learning and knowledge production to their values, personal sense of meaning, as well as their relationship to the world around them. 

Learning is an emotional journey, particularly in research mode. The research cycle throws up sticking points and challenges at different (usually inconvenient) times in the research process. (perhaps a large knot in the tightrope, or a sudden gust of wind). This doesn’t just impact our student mentees, but us as research mentors as well. While supervising research prioritises research products (eg the student’s dissertation, group report, journal article) and content (new geographical knowledge), mentoring personalises learning and makes it meaningful and important in shaping the learner’s own esteem and identity, which may impact career aspirations and life chances. 

The benefits of undergraduate research are well established for students, including the development of critical thinking, enhanced degree outcomes and student retention, making it a ‘high-impact practice’ (Kuh, 2008). It is not enough to just make students ‘do a dissertation,’ effective mentoring is central to accruing these benefits. Over the last five years, I’ve worked with a team of researchers to try to work out why, exploring specifically which types of mentoring practice are effective. Our large-scale literature review resulted in Ten Salient Practices (Shanahan et al, 2015; and summarised in Table 1) which are effective regardless of national context, type of higher education institution or discipline. We’ve since completed 32 detailed research interviews on what award-winning mentors from around the world actually do, including strategies to engage students in research, retain their interest through appropriate challenge, and celebrate success (Walkington et al, 2020). One example is supporting students in publishing their research findings through, for example, research journals like GEOverse. Importantly, mentored research opportunities at undergraduate level have been found to confer particular benefits on underserved student groups (Finley and McNair, 2013). As they help all students to succeed, I would argue that these undergraduate research opportunities have the potential to enhance student wellbeing. Indeed, since effective mentoring of students involves getting to know them on a deeper level, recognising their work and valuing them as individuals, this knowledge of the ‘whole student’ is a fundamental underpinning of an inclusive approach. 

1.     Do strategic pre-planning in order to be ready to respond to students’ varying needs and abilities throughout the research process.
2.     Set clear and well-scaffolded expectations for undergraduate researchers.
3.     Teach the technical skills, methods, and techniques of conducting research in the discipline.
4.     Balance rigorous expectations with emotional support and appropriate personal interest in students.
5.     Build community among groups of undergraduate researchers and mentors, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and any other members of the research team.
6.     Dedicate time as well to one-on-one, hands-on mentoring.
7.     Increase student ownership of the research over time.
8.     Support students’ professional development through networking and explaining norms of the discipline.
9.     Create intentional, laddered opportunities for peers and “near peers” to learn mentoring skills and to bring larger numbers of undergraduates into scholarly opportunities.
10.      Encourage students to share their findings and provide guidance on how to do so effectively in oral and poster presentations and in writing.

Table 1: Ten salient practices of undergraduate research mentoring

(Shanahan et al, 2015; Walkington, 2020)

However, the Covid–19 pandemic threatens to challenge the benefits of research-based learning. An undergraduate Geography student, alongside a doctoral student and several faculty members have researched the impact of Covid-19 on access to (and thus the benefits from) undergraduate research opportunities. With data from 18 institutions in the USA, they found that COVID-19 reduced access to research experiences*, reduced student access to technology and specialist research spaces, as well as interrupted face to face mentoring (Trego et al 2020). Clearly significant changes are required in approaches to data collection for it to remain safe for student researchers to continue to engage actively in research under these challenging circumstances. Understandably, in some instances there are topics that universities have declared ‘off limits’ due to their sensitivity. However, it is still possible to mentor students. It is possible to connect to students and provide the three forms of support that Thiry and Laursen outlined. 

To be resilient to unexpected changes, such as Covid-19 has posed, we need to embed research experiences that are inclusive of all students within the curriculum, rather than having selective research opportunities at risk from (hopefully!) short term changes in circumstances. We can democratise engagement with research and make it an entitlement, but to ensure effective learning outcomes for each and every student, we have to demonstrate our pedagogic resilience through a commitment to the ongoing balancing act of courage and compassion.

*In the US research opportunities for undergraduates are sometimes embedded in the curriculum, but are also provided as co-curricular opportunities such as summer projects.

Helen Walkington, PhD, NTF, PFHEAis Professor of Higher Education at Oxford Brookes University, UK where she teaches geography and carries out research into higher education pedagogy. She has written and presented widely on research-based learning strategies and mentoring excellence. Helen is a qualified career development coach and co-convenes the SRHE Academic Practice network.

References:

Finley, A and McNair, T (2013) Assessing Underserved Students’ Engagement in High-Impact Practices  Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities

Kuh, G,  2008. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities

Hill, J, Walkington, H and Dyer, S (2019) ‘Teaching, learning, and assessing in Geography: foundations for the future’, in Walkington, H, Hill, J, and Dyer, S (eds) Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Geography Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing pp. 474-484

Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) (2017) “Not by degrees: improving student mental health in the UK’s universities.” Available at https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/not-by-degrees [Accessed on 12/05/20]

Shanahan, J, Ackley-Holbrook, E, Hall, E, Stewart, K, and Walkington, H (2015) ‘Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors: A Review of the Literature’ Mentoring and Tutoring 23 (5): 359-376 

Thiry, H, and Laursen, SL (2011) “The role of student–advisor interactions in apprenticing undergraduate researchers into a scientific community of practice’ Journal of Science Education and Technology 20: 771–784

Trego, S, Nadybal, S, Grineski, S, Collins, T and Morales, D (2020) ‘Initial impacts of Covid-19 on Undergraduate researchers at US universities.’ [online] accessed from: https://d2vxd53ymoe6ju.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/20200726161915/trego_poster.jpg

Walkington, H, Griffin, AL, Keys-Mathews, L, Metoyer, SK, Miller, WE, Baker, R, and France, D (2011) ‘Embedding research-based learning early in the undergraduate Geography curriculum’ Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 35(3): 315-330 Walkington, H, Stewart, K, Hall, E, Ackley, E and Shanahan, JO (2020) ‘Salient practices of award-winning undergraduate research mentors – balancing freedom and control to achieve excellence’ Studies in Higher Education 45: 1519-1532


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Flexible digitally-enhanced courses that foster active learning

by Giovanna Carloni

This is one of a series of position statements developed following a conference on ‘Building the Post-Pandemic University’, organised on 15 September 2020 by SRHE member Mark Carrigan (Cambridge) and colleagues. The position statements are being posted as blogs by SRHE but can also be found on The Post-Pandemic University’s excellent and ever-expanding website.

Giovanna Carli’s statement can be found here.

The lessons learned from emergency remote teaching implemented during the Covid-19 disruption can be used to inform the design of flexible digitally-enhanced education in the post-pandemic university. Flexibility, which has emerged as pivotal during the pandemic and as a key dimension of educational practices in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown, is likely to affect the development of higher education deeply in the near future. In this respect, course design needs to provide students with the opportunity to increase their degree of agency in planning their learning pathways by enabling them, for example, to decide autonomously to switch between various participation modes and select among various types of activities. In this light, course designers and instructors need to bear in mind that digitally-enhanced learning is deeply interwoven with active learning.

Research carried out on some blended and fully online foreign language pedagogy classes delivered as emergency remote teaching at university during the lockdown has identified the affordances of various digitally-enhanced practices suitable for fostering the development of content knowledge and critical thinking from a multilingual perspective in flexible learning environments. The findings of the studies have been used to outline the design of flexible digitally-enhanced courses, combining face-to-face and online modes, taught in a foreign language and suited to catering to the multifarious needs of university students in a post-pandemic learning context. 

The flexible digitally-enhanced course outline developed addresses both the issues related to social distancing and the need of collaborative content knowledge development in higher education. In flexible digitally-enhanced courses, students can choose whether to attend face-to-face classes or online classes, which is likely to cater to students’ multifarious needs in the new normal while increasing their sense of agency. In particular, technology-enhanced activities representative of the Redefinition category of Puentedura’s SAMR model  – “Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable” – have been designed to promote innovative and highly engaging learning processes. Activities, such as ice breakers, targeted at making learners feel as members of a learning community have been created. To foster a sense of in-group membership, collaborative activities requiring students to co-construct multimodal artifacts have also been included in the blended learning environments outlined. 

In the post-pandemic context, the attainment of students’ wellbeing needs to be integrated into the pedagogical dimension of the learning experience. In this light, in flexible digitally-enhanced course design, teaching and learning practices have been devised from a pedagogy of care perspective. Furthermore, equity, another dimension emerged as essential during the pandemic, has been accounted for while designing flexible digitally-enhanced courses by adopting an open pedagogy approach, targeted at catering to the needs of all the agents engaged in post-pandemic university education. In this respect, adopting open textbooks, instructors can foster equity; in particular, open textbooks enable instructors to personalize content and activities catering to students’ needs in face-to-face and online learning environments. Likewise, using open textbooks, students can modify content to build new technology-enabled knowledge. Digital open educational resources, suitable for enhancing critical thinking through scaffolded hypothesis making and discussions in a foreign language, play a pivotal role in active learning development.

Overall, post-pandemic education needs to be flexible, digitally-enhanced, and targeted at fostering students’ active learning as well as learners’ metacognitive and professional skills through collaborative work.

Giovanna Carloni, PhD, is a lecturer at the University of Urbino, Italy. Her fields of expertise are foreign language didactics, teaching Italian as a second and foreign language, CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), English linguistics, corpus linguistics, virtual exchanges, educational technology, design for learning, and teacher training. Among her publications: Corpus Linguistics and English Teaching Materials (Milano: Franco Angeli), CLIL in Higher Education and the Role of Corpora. A Blended Model of Consultation Services and Learning Environments (Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari), and Digitally-Enhanced Practices and Open Pedagogy in English-Taught Programs. Flexible Learning for Local and Global Settings in Higher Education (Milano: Franco Angeli).


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Beyond TEF Cynicism: Towards a New Vocabulary of ‘Excellence’?

By Steven Jones

One might expect that asking a room full of diverse stakeholders to discuss ‘teaching excellence’ would result in all kinds of quarrels and disagreement. In fact, the SRHE’s September 2019 event (The impact of the TEF on our understanding, recording and measurement of teaching excellence: implications for policy and practice) was a refreshingly convivial and creative affair.

Everyone present agreed that the TEF’s proxies for excellence were wholly inappropriate. In fact, there was surprisingly little discussion of existing metrics. We all felt that the consumerist language of ‘value for money’ and the instrumental lens of ‘employability’ were inadequate to capture the nuanced and complex ways in which curiosity can be sparked and orthodoxy challenged in the HE classroom.

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka spoke about the absence of the student voice in TEF policy, noting that conceptualisations of ‘excellence’ tend to overlook the very moral and critical components of transformative teaching that students value most highly. Michael Tomlinson drew attention to student-as-consumer framings within the ‘measured market’, noting the inevitability of institutional game-playing, status leveraging and brand promotion in such a relentlessly competitive environment. Both speakers suggested that students were misleadingly empowered, lacking the agency that policy discourses attribute to them.

I tried to push this idea further, beginning my talk by asking whether any lecturer had ever actually changed the way they teach because of government policy. There was broad agreement that while excellence frameworks influenced professional cultures and co-opted university managers, they barely touched academic practice. Lecturers know their own students – and know how to teach them – better than any White Paper.

But is the TEF actually about university teaching at all? Or do too many barriers sit between policy and practice for that to be a realistic aim? Policy enactment in HE is interrupted by institutional autonomy, by academic freedom and, increasingly, by lecturers’ professional identity. The TEF’s real purpose, I would argue, is more about manipulating the discourse. It manufactures a crisis, positioning intractable academics as the problem and students as the victim, thus allowing competition to come along and save the day.

Grade inflation is one area in which the contradictions of top-down policy discourse are laid bare. The market demands that lecturers mark students’ work generously (so that ‘value added’ columns in league tables don’t hold back institutional ranking). Then policymakers wade in, attacking institutions for artificial increases and threatening fines for those who persist. The logic is inconsistent and confused, but this matters little – the discourse persuades voters that their own hard-won education successes are being devalued by a sector overprotective of its ‘snowflake’ customer base.

TEF provider statements offer the opportunity for universities to fight back, but evidence suggests they’re bland and indistinct, tending towards formulaic language and offering little additional clarity to the applicant.

But despite such missed opportunities, 73 Collier Street was full of new ideas. Opposition to metrics wasn’t based on change-resistance and ideological stubbornness. Indeed, as respondent Sal Jarvis noted, we urgently need to measure, understand and close differential attainment gaps in many areas, such as ethnicity. But there was consensus that current proxies for ‘excellence’ were incomplete, and creative thoughts about how they could be complemented. What about capturing graduates’ long-term well-being instead of their short-term satisfaction? Or encouraging institutions to develop their own frameworks based on their specific mission and their students’ needs? How about structural incentives for collaboration rather than competition? And a focus on teaching processes, not teaching outcomes?

The argument that the TEF is less about changing pedagogies than manipulating wider discourses shouldn’t bring any comfort to the sector. I tried to show how the dominant logic of teaching excellence primes the sector for more fundamental policy shifts, such as for-profit providers receiving taxpayer subsidy on pedagogical grounds. One delegate spoke to me at the end of the event to offer another example, explaining how employability-minded managers within his institution were squeezing out critical engagement with cultural theory to allow for further skills-based, professional training. The TEF may not change practice directly, but it retains the power to nudge the sector away from its core public roles towards more privatised and instrumental practices.

The challenge for us is to articulate a confident and robust defence of all kinds of university teaching. We need to explain how our pedagogies bring lifelong gains both to our students and to wider society, even if initial encounters can be difficult and unsettling. Policy has taken us a long way down the market’s cul-de-sac, but what’s reassuring is that we’re now moving on from TEF-bashing towards a coherent counter-narrative. This event confirmed that universities have more meaningful things to crow about than their fleeting goldenness against a bunch of false proxies.

SRHE member Steven Jones is a Professor of Higher Education at the Manchester Institute of Education. His research focuses on equity issues around students’ access, experiences and outcomes. Steven is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He teaches on the University of Manchester’s PGCert in Higher Education. The view expressed here are his own.


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Pedagogic rights and higher expertise in the post-truth society

by Jim Hordern

This post is part of a series tied to a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education that will be published in March 2019. The founding idea behind this special issue was to spark a re-evaluation of what higher education needs to do to respond to the post-truth world, especially from the perspective of individual educators. The twelve papers, nine of which will be accompanied by posts here on the SRHE blog, take different perspectives to explore the ways in which higher education is being challenged and the responses that it might make in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and professional practice.

Bernstein’s three pedagogic rights (enhancement, participation, inclusion) set out the ‘conditions for effective democracy’ (in discourse and practice) at the ‘individual’, ‘social’ and ‘political’ level (Bernstein, 2000: xxi). Developed as a reflection on political transition in Chile in the 1980s and remaining to an extent ‘enigmatic’ (Frandji and Vitale, 2016), the rights have recently been employed to discuss the South African higher education context (Luckett and Naicker, 2016) and the role of universities in human development and capability expansion (McClean et al, 2013). Consideration of the relationship between the three pedagogic rights aids reflection on the role of higher expertise in contemporary societies facing ‘post-truth’ challenges. If fully exercised the pedagogic rights could mitigate against the destructive potential of ‘alternative facts’ – but does the current context of higher education allow the rights to be exercised?

The right to ‘individual enhancement’ is described as a ‘a condition for experiencing boundaries’ and ‘tension points condensing the past and opening up possible futures’ (Bernstein, 2000: xx). This is the process whereby individuals acquire expertise through engagement in higher education, and become equipped for future thought and action. The right to enhancement assumes the existence of expert communities that can judge when boundaries and tensions have been experienced and enhancement has taken place, as part of a trajectory towards greater expertise and understanding (Winch, 2010). However, the process by which enhancement occurs is not static but rests on the potential for imagining ‘new possibilities’ (Bernstein, 2000: xx). As Luckett and Naicker point out, this is the right ‘that realises both the private and public goods of HE’ (2016: 12). However, it is heavily compromised without the other two rights (participation and inclusion). If higher education is only concerned with individual enhancement rather than ensuring all have the right to participate and to be included, then there is a risk not only that the most powerful individuals will dominate access to expertise, but also that expertise itself becomes increasingly moribund and irrelevant to contemporary society.

The right to participate means participation in the ‘procedures whereby order is constructed, maintained and changed’ (Bernstein, 2000: xxi). This extends to participation in the re-shaping of expertise to meet new requirements as societies change, while not losing the condensed lessons of the past. Participation is the condition for ‘civic practice’ (ibid: xxi), and affects the extent to which an expert body of knowledge maintains or loses relevance to contemporary concerns. A fully democratic society is founded on a right not only to access expertise but also to become an expert oneself. When participation becomes problematic democracy starts to break down, leading to increasing alienation from expertise and the potential for mistrust of the ‘experts’ themselves.

Lastly, the right to inclusion suggests ‘the right to be included, socially, intellectually, culturally and personally’, but also ‘a right to be separate, to be autonomous’ (Bernstein, 2000: xx), and therefore to have one’s individuality and minority view respected while nevertheless remaining ‘included’ in a community. Inclusion must occur, importantly, ‘without absorption’ (Frandji and Vitale, 2016: 16), allowing new perspectives to thrive and challenge existing expertise. Without this subtle conception of inclusion, higher expertise risks retreating to a notion of ‘received truth’ which all must accept with deference. Expertise may be transformed if new and convincing claims come to light that authentically improve understanding, but this can only be achieved through a mode of inclusion that respects difference and independence.

But are these pedagogic rights practised together in contemporary higher education? Some higher education institutions risk becoming increasingly distant from the communities in which they are located, answering instead to the demands of league tables and notions of the ‘global research university’ (Marginson, 2006). Furthermore, academic work is often defined in terms of narrow output measures, irrespective of concerns for participation and inclusion. Market and bureaucratic logics actively undermine the potential for expert communities to operate, and dismiss the criteria of excellence upon which notions of higher expertise are based, replacing them with a belief in the ‘inevitable obsolescence of accumulated knowledge’ (Beck and Young, 2005: 191). Are these promising conditions for the upholding of an open and iterative model of higher expertise which can effectively challenge ‘post-truths’, while valuing the full participation and inclusion of all citizens?

One thesis might be that the post truth context is a consequence of a collapse of deference for ‘authority’, both in institutional and epistemic terms. An alternative argument would assert that ongoing assaults on deference are necessary to expose dominance and bias, and that a ‘post-truth’ or ‘post-enlightenment’ context allows multiple voices to be heard and undue influence to be exposed. Arguably these views foreground either enhancement or participation at the expense of the other pedagogic rights. A further view might suggest that the post-truth context illustrates how expertise is increasingly ‘divorced from persons, their commitments, their personal dedications’ (Bernstein, 2000, 86), partly as a consequence of the extension of market logics into higher education (and the professions). Truth has become commodified so that knowledge can ‘flow like money to wherever it can create advantage and profit’ (ibid), allowing opportunists to exploit increasing levels of public and private disorientation. Enhancement, participation and inclusion are all threatened – and all must be re-thought for the future vitality and relevance of higher education, and for societal ownership of expertise.

Higher education institutions and professional communities responsible for higher expertise have thus far insufficiently recognised the implications of a non-deferential society in which all assertions are challenged, and need to work harder at ensuring inclusion and participation to make enhancement a possibility for all. Making pedagogic rights central to a refreshed notion of higher expertise thus requires a commitment to all three rights: enhancement, inclusion and participation. Commitment to one or two without the other is almost as detrimental to the future of higher education as commitment to none.

References

Beck, J and Young, M (2005) ‘The assault on the professions and the restructuring of academic and professional identities: a Bernsteinian analysis.’ British Journal of Sociology of Education 26 (2): 183-197

Bernstein, B (2000) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity 2nd edn New York: Rowman and Littlefield

Frandji, D and Vitale, P (2016) ‘The enigma of Bernstein’s ‘pedagogic rights’.’ In Vitale, P and Exley, B (eds) (2016) Pedagogic rights and democratic education: Bernsteinian explorations of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, pp13–32 London: Routledge

Luckett, K and Naicker, V (2016) ‘Responding to misrecognition from a (post)/colonial university.’ Critical Studies in Education, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2016.1234495

Marginson, S (2006) ‘Dynamics of national and global competition in higher education.’ Higher Education 52(1): 1–39

McClean, M, Abbas, A and P Ashwin (2013) ‘University knowledge, human development and pedagogic rights’ in Boni, A and Walker, M (eds) (2013) Human development and capabilities: Re-imagining the university of the twenty-first century, pp30–43 London: Routledge

Winch, C (2010) Dimensions of expertise: A conceptual exploration of vocational knowledge London: Continuum.

Jim Hordern is Reader in Educational Studies at Bath Spa University, U.K. His research interests are in educational knowledge and practice, particularly in higher, professional and vocational education. He is Book Reviews Editor of the Journal of Vocational Education and Training and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the Internationale Berufsbildungsforschung Springer book series.

You can find Jim’s full article, ‘Higher expertise, pedagogic rights and the post-truth society’ in Teaching in Higher Education 24(3): 288-301 athttps://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13562517.2018.1532957


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The ‘Holy Grail’ of pedagogical research: the quest to measure learning gain

by Camille Kandiko Howson, Corony Edwards, Alex Forsythe and Carol Evans

Just over a year ago, and learning gain was ‘trending’. Following a presentation at SRHE Annual Research Conference in December 2017, the Times Higher Education Supplement trumpeted that ‘Cambridge looks to crack measurement of ‘learning gain’; however, research-informed policy making is a long and winding road.

Learning gain is caught between a rock and a hard place — on the one hand there is a high bar for quality standards in social science research; on the other, there is the reality that policy-makers are using the currently available data to inform decision-making. Should the quest be to develop measures that meet the threshold for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), or simply improve on what we have now?

The latest version of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) remains wedded to the possibility of better measures of learning gain, and has been fully adopted by the OfS.  And we do undoubtedly need a better measure than those currently used. An interim evaluation of the learning gain pilot projects concludes: ‘data on satisfaction from the NSS, data from DHLE on employment, and LEO on earnings [are] all … awful proxies for learning gain’. The reduction in value of the NSS to 50% in the most recent TEF process make it no better a predictor of how students learn.  Fifty percent of a poor measure is still poor measurement.  The evaluation report argues that:

“The development of measures of learning gain involves theoretical questions of what to measure, and turning these into practical measures that can be empirically developed and tested. This is in a broader political context of asking ‘why’ measure learning gain and, ‘for what purpose’” (p7).

Given the current political climate, this has been answered by the insidious phrase ‘value for money’. This positioning of learning gain will inevitably result in the measurement of primarily employment data and career-readiness attributes. The sector’s response to this narrow view of HE has given renewed vigour to the debate on the purpose of higher education. Although many experts engage with the philosophical debate, fewer are addressing questions of the robustness of pedagogical research, methodological rigour and ethics.

The article Making Sense of Learning Gain in Higher Education, in a special issue of Higher Education Pedagogies (HEP) highlights these tricky questions. Continue reading