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!

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