Like many of my co-phd-candidates I have undergone some fairly rigorous turns in direction, diverting me away from my original context (cultural education and school education) into teaching in higher education about higher education. One of the biggest shifts was away from actual research. In my current role, it is not seen favorably to even use the term research, everything is now scholarship. I think I am still having a bit of a culture shock from that. I am at the core of my being a researcher. I love to take a stick and poke into dark corners asking questions. Being a researcher is like being a child growing up in the country-side. There are so many stones to lift and turn around, so much exploring of what lies—or lives—underneath.
I love teaching, too. Because no session is the same, and particularly in teaching colleagues, you are constantly challenged, forced back to the drawing board, and engaged in deeply insightful discussions. The problem with not doing research is finding a writing voice. While it is fairly easy for me to tap ahead and post in this blog about all the things happening in the classroom. None of this—in my opinion—would ever make a publication. I tried, about two years ago, to write an article for a practitioner journal, and it was a bungled mess of gibberish. I just could not find my voice. If I want to share and reflect about my scholarship in learning and teaching (at least the way I think I am supposed to) I rather do so in this blog. Here no one tells me how many words I may or may not spend, some journals even tell you the number of headlines they want! What the h…ickory smoked roast?
Besides, here (on my blog) I don’t feel like a fraud!
You do not expect me to pretend to write scientifically while I have no research to write about.
So as you know sometimes to solve a problem the parameters need to be redefined:
I have decided to try and write a sort of literature review, a more theoretical paper and see if this provides me with voice.
Warning this is kind of sort of a rant. So I have about 7 different posts drafted all more or less ready to go but more than half of them are fairly negative. I am not sure if this is a side effect of writing every day? Has anyone else made this experience?
When I have been writing over the last days it seems as if this is like a purging tool. The things that come out of the vortex are pet-peeves, frustrations, either with circumstances or my own inadequacies. It is as if Brain decided: whoohoo there is a nice shiny dumping ground opening up into which I can rid myself of annoying rubbish, unwanted feelings, and frustrations. The most frustrating thing about this experience is that I don’t even mean to write something negative. I have an idea about a topic, and yes, some of which are challenges but that doesn’t mean they ought to come out as a moan-fest.
So I am wondering now what else or maybe even who else is living in this vortex of writing. I am also wondering if, after some time of going through purgatory, I will arrive at the bottom of the vortex and my voice will emerge?
While I am picking up literature again and exploring more recent developments in creativity in higher education, for the purpose of this writing challenge I am going back to the roots and take it from there. The concept of creative learning and teaching I have translated into HE over the last years is that developed by Jeffrey and Woods (2009). I have written about this before, so just a brief summary the elements of creative learning and teaching the authors define are relevance, ownership, control and innovation.
To me the most fundamental aspect within a teaching situation is relevance—or real life context if you want. When I taught on our postgraduate certificate I asked the colleagues if they had ever been asked: ‘Why are we doing that?’ there is usually laughter. While in a secondary classroom the lack of relevance might lead to behavioural issues, in higher education it might ‘simply’* lead to disengagement.
Last semester, when teaching on a course called Student Engagement, I asked the participants why they choose this particular course. They were honest. Seriously, I need to stop building trust, they were really, really honest. I mean it’s a good thing my course fit into their timetable right? We can surely find something in Jungian writing about synchronicity telling us why this was a really positive reason. Other arguments reminded me of East-German school sport sessions. The balance beam really was the lesser of all evils and even fun. I mean, in the end I managed to do the splits on it and even cartwheels.
Rise above it, sunshine! Rise above!
Just kidding. We all know the realities of our roles, and I very much like the meta-level. Sometimes the friction this causes, bruises my ego. Och well, so far the ego as survived and is still going strong. And a meaningful learning experience (both mine and the learners’) is worthwhile a bit of pain. The participants’ honesty enabled me to create relevance. Because when we (as emerging academics) undertake this certificate we go back to being students. And boy did I become a student! I think when I undertook this qualification I skipped undergraduate and went straight back to stroppy highschooler. Anyway, I was able to turn their responses around, initiating a reflection on why they thought their students chose the courses the participants were teaching: and here I was glad about the trust again.
Hail to the meta-level
Creating this relevance to their experience as students in this situation, enabled a really engaged in depth discussion about student motivation and engagement. Connecting the content of the session with the participants’ own experience of being a student again and then making a link to the perspectives of their own students created context relevance to this part of our session. This is a fairly unexciting example of how relevance can work, and make a learning situation more meaningful to the learners.
Now imagine the power of relevance in more complex situations!
*We can debate semantics later
PS: The quoted text is the unseen commentator
After dinner we were working in the garden. When we finally had everything tidied up, and cleaned the kitchen, there was only the laundry to put up. And I realised the machine had not pumped the water. A flooded kitchen and several tries to open the machine later: Luckily, all that was broken was that a huge label from waterproof hiking gear had lodged itself in the filter. A fairly easy fix. After we filled several buckets, all our pots, a small swimming pool, an aquarium, and a garden pond with the water that had flooded the kitchen—okay, okay … everyone is permitted their five minutes of drama queen—all is back to normal and the clock shows 21:05. Now how to muster the energy to write another blog post?
So I decided today I am just sharing a quirky moment. Today I was engaged with a list of CPD topics, most of which are informed by our new integrated masters programme. This was really exciting. I can’t wait to prepare, engage with, research for these topics!
Well and then an ADHD moment snug in. The communication went something like that. Imagine shared document we all edit online:
Comment from boss: ‘You suggested that during one of the meetings.’
Comment from me: ‘I cannot recall this, but it totally sounds like me.’
So I guess I am doing it.
Have you sometimes regretted not to have published more from your PhD? Because at the time you were too occupied with staying financially afloat (in combination with some serious health issues) I simply didn’t have the capacity to write for publication. The refugee crises over the last years has highlighted again how contemporary my research still is—but not current enough to publish.
Looking into the issues first generation refugees experience, who arrived in a strange land by decree of their parents. How a school structure that provided a safe space enabled them to grow and move on. How children with socio-economic disadvantage experience academic set-backs equal if not even worse to those the refugee children experienced. How despite—against all expectations—the experience of physically crossing borders, of experiencing a significant change, teaches that change is possible. While, having a strong local identity, which at times does not even permit to cross gang-boundaries, can inhibit even possibility thinking.
I remember how upset I was that all I could say at the end of the project was: ‘I contributed to the discourse in the field.’
But what good does this do? What does it even mean? Is there a responsibility for a stronger voice? Is it okay to just contribute to the discourse, without any impact?
Yesterday I was all Meta and in the flow. Today I started out not quite sure what I would want to write about and then there were suddenly 5 different post ideas. But somehow the recent developments in Syria, reminded me of my PhD topic and the one thing I always regretted: not having published more. I have at least one more friend who has the same regret. Anyone else out there? What stopped you?
15 years after finishing my undergraduate degree I am moving towards the exploration of systems theories in relationship to learning and teaching in higher education. I have been drawn towards Kösel’s theory of Subjective Didactic* for all this time. However, I now regret not having been brave enough to use it before. This which drew me towards the theoretical framework was that Subjective Didactic is thus described as a Living System of autopoietic nature. While Kösel strongly refutes to enforce defining features (Wesensannahmen) for the theory he considers it an ever emerging system which in a dialectic sense holds contradicting viewpoints, thesis and anti-thesis within a dialogic space. He asks us as educators to sit with the contradictions. Providing space for negotiation, emergence, dialogue.
Very close to the nature of the proposed theory of Subjective Didactic is Debra Kidd’s book ‘Becoming Mobius’. She refers to the need for teachers to engage in autopoietic negotiations, and proposes that the rigid forms of linear, if-then relationships which aim–usually in the UK–to fulfill a constructively aligned curriculum neglect the dynamics of classroom interactions. The tight rope we walk as teachers (lecturers, tutors, professors, instructors–choose your label) between what is planned and what is eventually emergent, is the balance we keep of our own becoming.
It’s rather challenging to put snippets of thought from a meandering mind into the not quite ready writing of this blog post. It is almost as if I would share snapshots of a road-trip through a three dimensional landscape without telling you anything about where I was. But I guess this post is as meta as it gets. On one side it does exactly what the writing a post every day idea is all about: write something, anything, as long as you write. On the other side it also is very much in character with the texts I refer to in these two paragraphs. Thoughts as junctions of a conceptualization exercise. Eventually the whole picture, a cartography of thought will emerge.
*Note: didactic in German speaking context refers to the approaches/theories of teaching
Today was the first day of an eight week long twice a week 6-7 a.m. bootcamp I signed up for. On my way back when thinking about the writing activities I have to undertake I realised there is a strange commonality between the early morning intensive circuits training and academic writing.
When attending early morning exercises I always found that there are two crucial points I have to overcome to actually make myself go and engage effectively. The first point is simply getting up and out of the house, the second point are the first 5 minutes of exercise, during which I admittedly usually yawn my head off. My dad usually says:
It is important to keep discomfort in our lives.
In good old German manner my mom would agree with something down the line of: it steels the character. I believe there is even more to it. I believe it builds or maintains rescillience. And I have found that if I overcome these two points of challenge, the overcoming provides me with a sense of achievement first thing in the morning.
For me one of the most difficult things in beginning to write, is actually beginning to write. So this is the first point of overcoming. To not accidentally create excuses of why I would not be able to go to the early morning circuits, I prepare everything in the evening. Put out my gym gear, place waterbottles and fruit or a fruit bar (Aldi actually has really nice inexpensive no added sugar, fruit and nut bars) on the counter, and make sure the car has petrol in it. So there won’t be an excuse for running late because I couldn’t locate my trainers, or it’s too late now to still go because I had to pop to the petrol station first.
Make a plan. During my PhD I often stopped with a half finished paragraph or thought, and some bullet points of how I planned to continue writing. This would enable me to sit down and simply continue the writing process. So start with pointers, quotes, sources, anything that will enable you to write right away.
To actually get out of the house I set my alarm to half an hour before training starts, literally getting up and into gear, eat one of the bars and take some water and then just go. Same with writing:
Just do it!
And this is the most difficult part.
To ignore all the distractions, the internal and external ones. The knowledge that I go to something which I can pick up right away, and not a blank sheet helps me to overcome the inhibitions of not ‘just doing it’. What are your strategies?