All entries for May 2015

May 26, 2015

The Dark Would

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a really special two-day event hosted by the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL) at Warwick: The Dark Would. Established by an IATL project team (Rebecca Fisher, Amy Clarke, and Naomi de la Tour) in conjunction with some of the work Naomi did with Phil Gaydon on the IATL module 'Applied Imagination', the Dark Would is both a physical space and an approach to creative reflection and communication. The event allowed participants to experience both: we were able to explore the Dark Would in the morning of the first day, and spent the afternoon in workshops. Overnight, the Dark Would was transformed by a team of artists; while I wasn't able to attend on the second day, I've been informed reliably that it's just fantastic.

So, what is the Dark Would? It's a space filled with activities designed to take you out of the everyday and allow you to connect with your research, your teaching, your learning, and yourself in a way that you'll have to experience to understand. The darkened, dream-like setting engages all your senses and encourages you to embrace a child-like state of learning. But don't be misled into thinking it's an adult playspace; the activities presented in the Dark Would have solid pedagogical research behind them, and they are meant to shape your research and teaching/learning in fundamentally practical ways. I won't reveal too much--that'd ruin the mystery--but I highly recommend checking it out whenever you have an opportunity to do so.

Following the Dark Would experience, I was able to visit some of the drop-in sessions that had been set up. One of the spaces was open for creative expressions in a curated space and asked to create artistic responses to prompts like, 'how would you draw your learning and teaching?' I enjoyed it, but I was absolutely astonished by the second drop-in session, 'I stole this from the internet', developed by Cat Powers-Freeling from her 'Applied Imagination' module assessment last term. Cat presented a wide-ranging collection of items that she described succinctly as herself. She sat in the middle of her things and told stories about the objects. The objects were themselves an eloquent monument to the complexity of the average student (though Cat is far from 'average' in a perjorative sense!); items included medication, poetry Cat wrote when she was a teen, toys with emotional meaning from childhood. These were emotional objects, and Cat's ruminations on the objects were profound and profoundly moving. But it wasn't just an artistic exposure of the inner self--though as that, the session was magnificent--it was also a well-considered exploration of the student experience (or, at least, one student's experience). This was an excellent example of a holistic approach to education, to developing a complex and multi-tiered teacher-student-classroom relationship that was energizing and inspiring.

The workshops were more traditional, in some respects, but that's a relative measure. I attended 'Becoming a Beginner: Science Busking' with Sarah Cosgriff from the University of Birmingham's STEMnet. Sarah led us through her range of accessible science-based activities, showing us how to think more creatively about how we bring our research to the public (and what the public brings back to our research!). At the same time, Rachel King (Warwick) led a workshop on ecopedagogies, and Robbie Foulston ran a workshop on his work bringing clowning to professionals. I was disappointed to miss those--I heard nothing but good things about all the workshops.

In the second timeslot, I attended 'All grown up-ish: primary school pedagogy in a university setting' with Pav Ghuman (a primary school teacher at Earlsdon Primary) and Phil Gaydon (a PhD student at IATL/Philosophy). Pav and Phil discussed their work on how they bring university-level philosophy to young children, and how these philosophical issues can be connected to the students' experience through their physical environment. We discussed approaches to these learning processes in the HE sector, and had a really exciting conversation about student ownership of teaching space. Also held during this timeslot was Paul Taylor's (Leeds) presentation on 'Day/Night Science', about the role of creativity and interdisciplinarity in the sciences; we also had Ali Pidsley from IATL Student Ensemble leading a workshop on imagination.

Finally, I attended Alison James' (University of the Arts London) session on 'reflection for teachers and learners'. Alison led us through a cyclical process of reflection and discussion that helped anchor some of the thoughts and emotions the day had produced. I missed out on Jonathan Heron (IATL)'s session on how to 'Fail Better' and George Ttoouli's (Warwick Writing Programme) seminar on 'Using Constraints Creatively' as a result, but both these themes came out in Alison' session as well. Though participants had a wide range of experiences and reactions (naturally!), it was fascinating to see how similar our reflections were, in a broad sense; though the workshops were varied, we all felt that they'd brought problems (or opportunities, if I can make that comparison straight-faced) very clearly into focus. How can we teach students in an honest, accessible, egalitarian way that doesn't sacrifice rigor and the abstract with an over-focus on practical training? And yet, paradoxically, shouldn't practicality lie at the heart of education?

These big questions were discussed in a spirited roundtable led by Christina Hughes involving Cath Lambert, Ruth Leary, Alison James, Jonathon Heron, Ollie Higgins (a Chemisty finalist), and Cat Powers-Freeling (the same student who ran the curated emotional objects session I raved about earlier). The contributors did an excellent job connecting theory, practice, and reception (as exemplified by the day's events as well as in broader contexts), and it was really thrilling to hear how the attendees were able to connect the often abstract events of the day with their own experiences, both in terms of personal practice as well as with the wider HE sector (this was only a few days after the UK general election, after all).

Disappointingly, I had to miss the second day (though for a good reason: I was leading a workshop on 'digital networking and communication' at the Warwick Doctoral Training Programme at the Warburg Institute, run by Warwick's Centre for the Study of the Renaissance--more on that later). I was particularly upset to miss the reinvention of the Dark Would, which was the centerpiece of the second day. Michelle Bailey and her team of artists physically built a new space that really captures the dream-like quality of the Dark Would; Alex Miles composed music and sounds to accompany the exploration of the space, and the whole thing was filmed and photographed by Ben Cook. I should say that the participating artists didn't simply build a new set, or take a few pictures; they were all invited to incorporate the Dark Would process into their own work, and did so with wonderful results--Ben Cook's 'influence map' and forthcoming video projects in particular are just incredible examples of the imaginative power of the Dark Would.

May 11, 2015

Warwick/UKCISA Integration Summit

While we're working busily behind the scenes here at MITN to get things up and running--and we do have some wonderful projects and collaborations in the works--I thought I'd write a little about the Warwick/UKCISA Integration Summit that I attended this past week as a wonderful example of Warwick's efforts to better develop its international outlook. This was the fourth annual summit that brings together academics, HE administrative staff, Students' Unions officers and staff, students, and UKCISA staff to address how we can better integrate home and international students.

This year's theme was 'What makes a global student?' A major strategic priority for Warwick (among many UK universities), we know that potential employers are increasingly vocal about their preference for--indeed, reliance on--graduates that can comfortably move between cultures, either physically or within international teams. Students themselves are increasingly focused on post-graduation employability and skills development, which has created tension in universities between the demands of skills-focused employers and students, and more traditional academic degree programs that provide 'softer' skills. Events like the Integration Summit are excellent ways to bring together some of the key groups that can negotiate these tensions in a productive fashion.

We were welcomed to the Summit by Warwick pro-vice chancellor Prof. Jan Palmowski and Cat Turhan, Warwick SU president, who both reflected on the three summits which preceded this one and anchored the themes of the event in personal experience and insights.

The first keynote was given by Prof. Helen Spencer-Oatey, director for the Warwick Centre for Applied Linguistics. She spoke about ongoing research conducted using the Student and International Student Barometers, where she and colleagues inserted questions regarding international/intercultural friendships and classrooms. Her findings were fascinating, demonstrating that students perceive that intercultural working groups are more important for developing intercultural skills than multicultural friendship groups--a real surprise to many of us in the audience. Having recently taught a group of students split between traditional and Further Education (FE) degree programs, Prof. Spencer-Oatey's talk made me wonder if the same might hold true not just for geographically-disparate cultural groups, but also for microcultural groups divided by class, gender, or linguistic markers: opportunities for further research!

The second keynote was given by Prof. Juliana Roth (Ludwig Maxmilians University, Munich) and provided a fascinating contrast for the UK delegates. Prof. Roth described how the German HE system--with tuition fully funded by the government for all students--has felt significantly less pressure to attract fee-paying international students than UK institutions. Prof. Roth considered some of the effects of these differing pressures; German institutions can feel less international amongst both staff and students, with support for international staff/students lacking as a result, but institutions are under less pressure to provide wide-ranging (and expensive!) support for international students. Prof. Roth raised a number of questions about how these forces might shape the German HE experience, both for home and international students.

The two keynotes were very present in my mind as I moved on to the afternoon workshops. Unfortunately, we could only attend two of the three workshops offered--by all accounts, all three were really useful. I attended Session 2: Digital Networks: Connecting Students Worldwide, which was divided into two parts. First up was Matt Lloyd (Sheffield), who presented on the University of Sheffield's Student Union project on 'Virtual Cultural Exchange', co-hosted by the Islamic University of Gaza. Students met virtually on a weekly basis for themed discussions designed to promote cultural exchange. Interactions were synchronous (using Skype) and asynchronous (using email), and culminated in a 'virtual dinner party'. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating that virtual communities can react positively to structure and overcome initial social difficulties. Part 2 was led by Teresa MacKinnon (Warwick), who provided an overview of the more developed Clavier project, which now connects over a thousand students around the world. Theresa discussed how we can use examples like the Clavier project to better integrate Online Intercultural Exchange (OIE) into more traditional classroom settings. The scope of the Clavier project and its organic growth far beyond the original parameters invisaged by the project team was inspiring, especially for those of us using virtual classroom tools.

Following lunch, I attended Session 3: 'Gone International: Enhancing Intercultural Competence through Study Abroad', which was also divided into two parts. Part 1 looked at the UK Higher Education International Unit's report on study abroad impact, and was presented by Leo Boe (formerly the Warwick SU president, now working for UKHIEU). Leo's talk was astonishing and painted a very clear picture: study abroad improves student experience, achievement, and employment in virtually every aspect. As a former study abroad participant, I can attest to its transformative effect myself, but it was wonderful to hear so many similar stories. Less encouraging was how few UK students take up these opportunities: 1.1% (as compared to about 4% of US undergraduates). More well-off students also tended to take up study abroad opportunities, and this is an area of real personal concern; it'd be really useful to think about how we can support and encourage BME and otherwise underrepresented student groups to take up study abroad programs. Part 2 was led by Emily Lim (Warwick International Office) and Sophie Reissner-Roubicek (Warwick Centre for Applied Linguistics), who discussed the CAL/IO collaborative effort to produce a supporting program for Warwick study abroad students. In addition to showing us the fantastic online preparatory/reflective module taken by study abroad students, Emily and Sophie were able to talk through how they were able to interview study abroad students and gain really valueable insights into the personal effects of study abroad. As a model for approaching intercultural communication education and study abroad support, Sophie and Emily's talk was extraordinary, and if you have the opportunity to check out their online module, I can't recommend it strongly enough.

As I mentioned above, I didn't get to check out Session 1, but here's the abstract, taken from the day's program:

"Succeeding in a Global Job Market: Articulating Intercultural Experiences for Increased Employability.

This interactive session will explore research from NUS UK and NUS Scotland on global employment and employability, looking at both international and UK students. It will draw on good practice from across the University of London Colleges and showcase how Careers services such as UCL, Kings College London, Royal Holloway and Queen Mary University of London train students to be employees in a global workplace.

Delegates attending the session will gain an understanding of global employment and employability for both international and home students. The workshop will provide a broader understanding of how we can help students recognise where they have gained an international outlook and intercultural skills from a year abroad or overseas internship, and how this can be marketed to potential international employers.

The session will also invite delegates to consider how we can equip students for an international job-search and hear about some of the ways this is being done at the University of London.

Joy Elliot Bowman, NUS and Abi Sharma,The Careers Group, University of London"

Unfortunately I had to run and miss the final wrap-up discussions of best practice, but I've been thinking for the past few days about how to bring in some of the discussions to my own teaching and research, as well as that of the wider MITN efforts. I was really struck that all this talk about the 'global student', virtual classroom tools, MOOCs, and intercultural experience really boils down to the overwhelming--even primary--importance of providing multicultural and international learning environments for allof our students. To provide these, we'll need to think much more carefully about how HE institutions operate in restricted funding landscapes to provide organic, authentic, and above all, accessiblemulticultural experiences for students--and just as importantly, provide training for support and academic staff. The Monash-Warwick Alliance is a great model for how institutions can provide these experiences in an austerity-friendly format, since both instutitions gain access to the others' resources for a fraction of the cost of investing in branch campuses or international residential programs (for example). Got any other thoughts? Get in touch!

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