Several weeks ago I attended a really interesting breakfast workshop co-delivered by Warwick and Monash University. The theme of the session focused on interdisciplinarity in teaching and learning and covered some interesting ideas and projects that are currently being undertaken at both Universities. Using the wonders of technology there was a seamless and very effective video link to the lecture theatre in Monash.
Interdisciplinarity - generated by wordle.net
Interdisciplinarity seems to be a ‘hot topic’ in teaching and learning at the moment. The recent Kings/Warwick project found that this form of teaching often took place ‘despite of the curriculum’ as an extra aside and discussions focused on how in some instances the concept of interdiscplinarity had been embraced in the development of new modules. The opening talk included a further discussion of the project results and highlighted the importance of students in assisting with the development of interdisciplinary initiaitives within HE – the idea of a student-as-producer philosophy.
The first talk from Monash focused on a subject that did not quite fit within any discipline and how they approached the teaching of language in conjunction with the teaching of culture. The speaker highlighted how they were able to collaborate with different disciplines both within their own university and institutions overseas. Institutional support was considered vital in promoting this practice. Whilst interdisciplinary practice brought a number of benefits there were some concerns over how these sort of modules/departments fitted into the Australian Research Assessment Exercise.
Warwick followed this talk with a series of student accounts about what they got out of interdisciplinary modules. This section was really powerful and emphasised the value and impact of this style of teaching – students were encouraged to go beyond their comfort zones and develop new skills.
The academic perspective was also covered by both Monash and Warwick with details of specific projects that have been undertaken and how this approach to teaching promoted fresh approaches to delivering modules. In addition assessment approaches were also mentioned including reflective writing, essays, group projects and portfolios. What was interesting was how this form of teaching promoted creative thinking and how well it was received by those students who engaged with it. Whilst there are obviously some challenges to this approaching and critics who believe that this approach can ‘water down subjects’ – the morning was invaluable and inspiring. It will be interesting to watch developments in this area further both here and within other institutions.
Tomorrow, together with a colleague, I am running a short introductory session for Early Career Researchers who Teach – the idea of the session is to introduce the support that our team can offer ECR’s and unveil a new developmental programme that we have put together for ECR’s who teach. One thing that we were requested to consider in planning this session is addressing the issue of the challenges and opportunities relating to the balance of teaching and research.
In recent years the emphasis for HEI’s has tended to be focused on research excellence. In a recent Guardian blog post Sue Littlemore suggested that in her view teaching (unlike research) does not make institutions or careers. I do not necessarily agree with this viewpoint as I think teaching can provide you with skills that help with research – for example communication skills that could assist with the dissemination of research.
I think both teaching and research have vital places within HEI’s although a common perception currently is that teaching can take second place to research. However is this attitude about to change? With the imminent increase in student fees there may be an increase in student expectations and their experiences of teaching may influence whether other students are encouraged to study at a particular institution. In addition in another Guardian article some early career researchers are finding that whilst their research is up to standard they are missing out on jobs in an ever competing market due to their lack of teaching experience.
Within academia there are many changes under way and plenty of discussions about how research and teaching can co-exist and be mutually beneficial in some instances (see article by Ann Thomson). Some suggestions could include using your teaching to inform your research – talking on your specialist area and getting new perspectives from students. Through teaching a subject some people find that they increase their understanding in that particular area. Another option that some people are using is the ‘student as researcher’ or ‘student as producer’ approach – one example of this is a project at Lincoln University – where the teaching experience equips students with the skills to research and feed into new developments. It could also encourage and inspire a future generation of potential academics.
Whilst there tends to be a bias towards research – teaching (like research) does have a vital role to play within universities and future changes in student expectations may heighten the need to celebrate and recognise teaching excellence further.
The session tomorrow night has got me thinking about the topic – this is very much a blog post full of random thoughts and no doubt an issue that I will revisit.