Set a thief to catch a thief. A poacher turned gamekeeper. It is always useful to get another perspective on a job you think you know and that sometimes happens by adopting another role. Simulation and role play can only take you so far, so in full method acting mode I became a student again by enrolling in the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education Learning and Teaching at the University of Aberdeen in late 2011. I have now finished the 60 credit course (yay!) but I had one final hurrah in the form of playing the student in the staff student liaison committee (SSLC) for the second half of that course. Adopting this role got me a campus sandwich for lunch (mini-yay!), with the quid pro quo of reporting my and my colleagues’ experiences.
Every day is a school day, or so the saying goes. True to form, the learning did not stop for me when my final assessment went in. To a large extent, this was because the meeting involved a number of other courses (one half-course of 30 credits that I had sat the previous year, an e-learning course that had just been introduced to the curriculum and a medical education half-course of 30 credits). Listening to feedback from these courses and the various course co-ordinators (all of them pedagogues of greater standing than me) was just a little useful. Some headlines follow.
Peer-observation: I took part in this in my first half-course, both observing and being observed. A student colleague at the SSLC noted he had benefited as much from being the observer as being observed, which I suppose bears out my point about the usefulness of being a student rep and seeing a different perspective. For anyone reading this sceptical of peer-observation, I thoroughly recommend it.
Mixing-disciplines: Apparently there has been some discussion in the past about streaming these courses throughout for, say, medics, dentists, social scientists, etc. Subject to the caveat about the 30 credit medical course listed above, the general consensus seemed to be that an intermingling of disciplines was best. I agree. For what it is worth, I was peer observed by a non-lawyer, and this certainly made me check my step and not blind anyone with (legal) science. Which is always handy when you are giving undergraduates their inaugural lecture in a new subject. * (See update below.)
Situated-learning: There has also apparently been discussion about putting these courses on in the summer, to allow staff to concentrate fully on the science of learning and teaching without the pesky task of teaching getting in the way. Then again, would it not be better to be learning about teaching while you are teaching, to allow you to put ideas into action right away? Welcome to the world of situated learning.
So that was the SSLC meeting. And with that, that was the end of my return to being a student, so I can return to my comfort zone. Mind you, that is one sure-fire way to learn: challenge your comfort zone. Maybe you should try it some time?
* Update, 1 June: A further thought occured to me after writing the initial post. In return for me being peer-observed, the return leg was me peer-observing a class at Aberdeen’s Foresterhill (medical) campus. Amongst other things, this let me see the benefits of even a very brief teaching break in a session. Here the students were given 3 minutes to discuss something, in which time the teacher and I went out the room for a wee chat. She gathered her thoughts to realise she had forgotten to say something, then both she and the class were re-energised (if that’s not too strong a term) to concentrate and participate again. This chimes rather harmoniously with the point above about the benefits of being a peer-observer, not to mention mixing disciplines.