‘Orrible Victorian Deaths

I did a great webinar in the week organised by the British Newspaper Archive, on how to get the best from the BNA. I tried out some of the tips on searches of my home village (Ufford, nr Woodbridge, Suffolk) and found some great stories and several that are very sad and affecting. Those Victorians certainly reveled in tales of death and misfortune, reporting incidents with an extraordinary level of detail that we might find unnecessarily melodramatic today. Nevertheless, they provide a fantastic insight into the lives and deaths of everyday people in the past.

Here are some stories that particularly captured my attention:

Mr Charles Stephenson of Willow Farm, aged 72, died of a cardiac incident while driving his horse and cart between Ufford and Melton Old Church in 1886. The Framlingham Weekly News reported (Saturday 27 November, p. 1) that:

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Ch ch ch ch changes…

In the last month, three big things have happened:

  1. I am now employed on a full-time permanent basis by Tricolor.
  2. I am working on behalf of Tricolor at Sutton Hoo (that’s one childhood dream ticked off!).
  3. Because of the new job and changed circumstances, I’ve had to ditch the teaching course – but not before getting a distinction for my first assignment! #stillgotit

Very busy, but very happy!

Photo by me!

On submitting my first assessment

This week’s reflective journal entry…

This week we’ve been asked to reflect on how submitting our first assignment for the ATP made us feel.

My key concern was making sure that I had all the elements, uploaded to the right place and that the submission went through without any obstacles. Because I was going to be away when the assignment was due, I needed to submit it early and I was a little anxious that I was missing a crucial element that I wouldn’t be able to fix while I was away.

However, it looks like the submission went smoothly and I’ve effectively put Assignment 1 to the back of my mind (it is only worth 20% of marks anyway) and I’m moving on to think about the next assessment, which looks like it will require me to do a little more writing and critical thinking.

Interestingly, my students (who I met for the first time this week), will be preparing for a similarly weighted assignment in the next few weeks. Several of them are already clearly quite concerned about it and if my experience with the ATP assessments so far can teach me anything, it’s to reassure them that it is a developmental assignment – it’s designed to help them start to pin down and reflect critically on their dissertation topics. And it is only worth 20% of the final mark!

Image via regan76 on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Teaching methods

This week’s reflective journal post…

For this week’s reflection, we have been asked to consider the particular approaches to and teaching methods within our discipline.

In my current role at Loughborough University, there is an inherent challenge in supporting students who are otherwise creative practitioners (as fine artists, graphic designers, textile designers, etc.), to undertake and write up a significant piece of academic research (their undergraduate dissertations). That is not to say that my tutees are and have not been ‘academic’ – of course many are. But others are not so comfortable with this aspect of their course. This is quite a different experience for me, as prior to my work at Loughborough, the bulk of my teaching practice was within a highly theoretical masters programme – in most cases, those students were capable of producing accomplished, high-quality pieces of written work.

For these reasons, I found the chapter, ‘Art, design and media’ by Roni Brown (p. 360), in A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, a useful, thought-provoking read. Although Brown focuses more on the assessment of and learning approaches to practical, creative work, in so doing, she highlights the very real differences in the ways in which art students’ work is valued and assessed (formally and informally) by teaching staff (and their peers), compared with how we would typically approach the assessment of written work. It has made me think that I need to take a different approach to tutoring students in the development of their dissertations. For example, couching their research in terms such as ‘discovery, making, doing’ (p. 361) – drawing out the parallels between this and their creative practice. This may help to make the more anxious among them feel more comfortable by invoking conceptual approaches to making and doing with which they are already familiar. Equally, they may not be used to following the rigid timescale required for their dissertation module, if they are typically allowed more freedom and independence in developing and producing their practical work (see p. 362). I would certainly be interested in finding out more about supporting students for whom written work has not formed the bulk of their assessment in the past.

In more general terms, I was particularly struck by one issue highlighted in Mathieson’s chapter in the same volume, ‘Student Learning’ (p. 63) – the tendency of teachers to be influenced in their teaching style by their own learning preferences. I have a distinct preference to learn by assimilation (p. 76) and, fundamentally, I am, in Myers-Brigg’s terms, an introvert. Participatory activities in the classroom are not something I personally enjoy as a learner (at times I’ve found them excruciatingly painful – the terror I felt when the lecturer said, ‘now, in pairs, discuss…’!). So I am likely to employ a teaching approach that avoids these kinds of approaches – I feel for the fellow introverts in the class!

However, in so doing, I’m potentially disadvantaging students with other learning styles/approaches, and it is important, as Mathieson notes, to encourage learners to ‘develop their less preferred approaches to learning’. One size doesn’t fit all and careful thought needs to be given to accommodating the potential learning style preferences of all learners in the class, while, at the same time, challenging them to employ different approaches for the benefit of the whole class. Perhaps this should be explained to students at the start of a course/module? This is definitely something to be mindful of as I develop my teaching practice.

This week, we have also been asked to consider where we position ourselves on the Dreyfus & Dreyfus scale. In some respects I consider myself to be Competent, in that I know and I am comfortable with what I am supposed to be doing with regards to supporting students to develop and write-up their third year dissertations. Clear learning outcomes and guidance are provided in the module outline. The programme of accompanying lectures has been meticulously designed (not by me, I hasten to add!) to highlight, each week, research and writing skills particularly pertinent to that stage in the module. I have an arsenal of tried and tested strategies, and lots of prior (and fairly successful) experience of guiding students through the process. However, in broader terms, I am definitely an Advanced Beginner – I know a fair bit about learning theory and different approaches to teaching and learning, but have had scant opportunity to put this into practice.

Finally, I took a TPI test. The results suggest my most dominant perspective is ‘Nurturing’. I can’t say I’m unhappy with that result!

Perpetual student

This week I’ve started the Associate Teaching Programme at Loughborough University, to support my work there as a University Teacher. As part of the course, I have to write a reflective journal and, largely to try out the software and get my bearings, I wrote a short piece this evening about my thoughts at the beginning of the programme. I thought I might share it and future journal posts here.

Btw, for those not in the know, TEF stands for ‘Teaching Excellence Framework‘, which the Government is introducing in order to monitor and assess the quality of teaching at higher education institutions. Traditionally, HE teaching staff have generally not required teaching qualifications. That’s all about to change, most likely making it doubly more difficult to secure a permanent contract in academia, especially for early career researchers. Le sigh.

To a large extent, I have all but given up on the academic career I imagined I would have post-PhD. While I have secured several research positions in the six years since I graduated, I have found it impossible to progress my career, especially in the realm of teaching. This has been particularly distressing (no, that isn’t too strong a word) because,while I enjoy research and writing and have built up a solid publications record, it’s the teaching – the imparting of knowledge and skills to others – that I really love.

I was asked, quite out of the blue, last year, to undertake some undergrad dissertation tutoring in the School of the Arts at Loughborough University. Despite the timing being a bit difficult (I had to juggle a full-time postdoctoral research project at the British Library at the same time), it was a fantastic opportunity (and the extra money wasn’t bad either!). The then module leader supported my application to the ATP course. During all my roles at the University of Leicester, I was never eligible to take an HE teaching course (I was never on the right sort of contract) and so the opportunity to do the course, for gratis, was not to be missed! It will boost my CV, give me Associate Fellowship of the HE Academy (essential for TEF, should I wish to return to academia at some point) and will provide me with credit for all the teaching and teaching-related work I’ve undertaken in recent years. It will also lay to rest the ghost of the Post-Compulsory PGCE I started way back in the early 2000s, which, for various reasons I could not finish (not least because my then employer, also the course provider, withdrew support).

Anyway, I’m keen to get started!