One size fits all…. or the craft of artisan teaching?
The keynote at this year’s Learning and Teaching conference was delivered by Prof Chris Hockings, who is Professor of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Wolverhampton. Chris’ research focusses on widening participation and student diversity. The talk started with a reflection on how much the degree of diversity in the student body has changed, in recent years, due to increased participation in HE in general. For example, students now enter HE with a wider range of entry qualifications than was the case in the past, and thus bring with them a wider range of past learning habits and experiences, and very different expectations about how they should go about the task of learning. Chris argued that if teachers are able to see students as individuals, this in turn results in students being more ‘academically engaged’ which she defines as “critically exploring one’s own and others’ different knowledge, experiences and backgrounds in a search for deep understanding, meaning and knowing”. Since deep (rather than surface) learning is an important goal, Chris’ ESRC-funded research (www.wlv.ac.uk/teaching4diversity) found that academic engagement in diverse student groups is fostered when teachers: i) create safe, inclusive learning spaces, ii) use strategies that harness students’ experience and knowledge, and iii) teach reflexively and with sensitivity to individual & cultural differences. Chris illustrated these – potentially abstract – concepts using a series of video clips of real teaching encounters, in different disciplines. If you missed the talk you don’t have to miss this content, since it was developed by Chris and colleagues, in a subsequent HEA-funded project, into an open educational resource training module for teachers in HE: www.wlv.ac.uk/teachinclusively The ‘Learning to Teach Inclusively’ module is in three parts: curriculum design / pedagogic practice / institutional policy. ‘Unit 1’ on inclusive curriculum design could be invaluable for programme teams at York looking to review UG programmes in response to the new Learning and Teaching Strategy. ‘Unit 2’ focuses on practical teaching practice, and Chris used a sample of these materials in her talk to illustrate the typical practices of an ‘artisan teacher’, who develops the craft of engaging all students. Questions addressed in the following discussion included the issue of how this could be achieved in large cohort lectures or when the focus is primarily on transmission of facts. Chris encouraged delegates to watch some of the examples of teaching e.g. in Maths (in Unit 2), which demonstrate that it is possible to teach even ‘bare facts’ in a way that allows students in a diverse student body to work together and learn from each other. If you were at the talk, please add your further comments below, and join the discussion. We would encourage staff to work through the LTI module, and to use it to reflect on your own curriculum design (unit 1) and teaching practice (unit 2). If you would like to met up with other staff also using these materials, for mutual support and/or discussion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put staff in contact with each other. Sam Hellmuth, Chair, Learning and Teaching Forum, University of York