Some initial reflections about teaching and learning in higher education

Over the past few years, the period during which I’ve been working as a lecturer in higher education, I have been fortunate to be in a position where my research has lived in close synergy with my responsibilities for teaching and learning. Over this period I’ve had the opportunity to complete a number of small scale projects which have played an important role in developing my own practice as a teacher, and in a few cases the results I have gained from this work have reached publication. However, in the often hectic environment which is the typical experience of many in the modern UK university there is a tendency for ideas and insights to go unnoticed and unreported. Recently, however, I returned to a short paper by Shulman (1993), the title of which is ‘Teaching as Community Property’, with a subtitle ‘putting an end to pedagogical solitude’. Much of what Shulman writes in this paper has a resonance with my own experience where in the busy ‘day to day’ much of our practice as teachers is never discussed, never observed by others and is certainly rarely shared with the wider community for discussion and debate. This is not meant as a chastisement to either myself or others, but is merely the natural outcome when individuals have a number of different responsibilities in different domains.

Shulman makes the case that for teaching and learning to become a community property it first needs to be made explicit, thereby allowing interrogation, debate and discussion. Just a few years earlier Ernest Boyer (1990) had coined the term Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) building on the work of others, for example Shulman’s (1987) ‘pedagogic content knowledge‘. Since the early 1990s the scholarly approach to teaching and learning in higher education has grown apace and offers an interesting approach for making available the research and reflections of those interested in developing understanding of teaching and learning. A crucial part of SoTL is the sharing and publication of the insights gained through scholarly pursuit. It is this pursuit which has led to the development of this blog which I hope will be a positive space for reflection on issues relating to teaching and learning, as well as offering summaries, updates and reflections on the projects that I, often with colleagues, develop as we attempt to develop better teaching and learning on the postgraduate courses for which we are responsible. Some of the questions which are at the forefront of my thinking at present include:

  • what is the distinct nature of Masters level study and how can teaching and learning approaches aid in the transition from undergraduate to doctoral study?
  • at Masters level what does a research methods pedagogy consist of, and how can RM be properly integrated into the rest of the course (all too often it can become an appendage)?
  • given the diversity of international students working together on a Masters course how can provision be formed to enable and develop individuals to their full potential?
  • what methodologies can be added to those already seen as central to SoTL to extend the depth and breadth of our understanding of teaching and learning in higher education?

It is these questions, together with occasional other interests, which have led to the creation of this blog. I hope some of our work and the insights they provide might act as a useful point of contact for others who are interested in developing teaching and learning in HE. Unlike the school sector in England, which is ever more riven with politicisation and the results of marketization, HE still retains a great deal of space for experimentation, the development of original approaches and a belief in professional trust and authenticity.

References

Boyer, E. (1990) ‘Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.’ The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (http://depts.washington.edu/gs630/Spring/Boyer.pdf)

Shulman, L. S. (1987) ‘Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform.’ Harvard Educational Review, 36 (1), 1-22. (http://gse.buffalo.edu/fas/yerrick/ubscience/UB_Science_Education_Goes_to_School/21C_Literature_files/shulman,%201987.pdf)

Shulman, L.S. (1993) ‘Teaching as Community Property: Putting an End to Pedagogical Solitude.’ Change, 25 (6), 6-7. (http://www.iub.edu/~tchsotl/part4/shulman%20community%20property.pdf)

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