Earlier this month I reflected on leaving the thirdspace. This post continues my reflections on this transition.
The start date for my new position is technically the 1st of October, in two days’ time. Despite that, I’ve already dipped my toe into the School of Education’s conference, moved office, spent whole days in my new building and attended meetings. This all took place thanks to my internal move, allowing me a smoother transition instead of dropping into the deep end. However, while that magic start date is coming up, it actually felt like the real start was two days ago as this was my first teaching. Hopefully, the +2 or -2 makes sense now ?. It still kind of feels weird blogging about the build-up to a starting point that has already kind of happened (in reality) – but hasn’t (contractually) at the same time.
Earlier this week I blogged ahead of my first teaching sessions. Today I have the benefit of reflecting on this experience.
Workshop time: A day without slides
My first two sessions this week were both workshops. This gave me a full two hours with my L7 workshop group and another two hours with my L6 students. These sessions were entirely activity-based, requiring me to teach through facilitation. There were no slides or detailed plans, just the knowledge in the room: both mine and my students. This felt novel. Refreshing even. It is fair to say, however, that as an outgoing Learning Developer, this shouldn’t be the case… What happened to my Learning Development practice and signature pedagogies?
Massification of Learning Development
A decade ago, when I first started as a Learning Developer, it was all about high-quality, one-to-one appointments and small group-based workshops to facilitate learning. Somewhere over the years, as demand for the service grew and as the resources in our team changed, this support model changed. Appointments were still important, but those small workshops had rapidly turned into lecture-like sessions. While it was never by design, this model kind of crept up on us.
The development of Learning Development
For my old role, the Learning Development workshops were 90 minutes long and delivered in two parts. First, we used to intentionally ‘lecture’ students for 30 minutes, and then our volunteers facilitated activities for the following 60 minutes. This model was based on Peer-Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), and it worked really well. This approach helped us to support large levels of demand and maintain high-quality provision. Statistically speaking, the impact of this on reach was HUGE – but, unfortunately, this model failed when we struggled to recruit volunteers. This needed to be addressed and to maintain the service level and include more students, much of our provision moved online (well before Covid-19).
With the move online, we also recognised that 90-minute online sessions were unattractive – and so reduced the sessions to 60 minutes. In parallel to this, the most significant area of our service rapidly became in-curriculum teaching. With guaranteed reach and high capacity, this model also favoured lectures (all be it interactive). Again, from a reach, supply and demand perspective, this was a no-brainer. However, it also reflects the transition from workshop to lecture. Although this transition in pedagogy was never intentional, it worked – and still remains the best approach to meet demand.
As a Learning Development team, we long desired to bring back interactive workshops or introduce small-group teaching. However, it was a hard sell – even to ourselves. Given the pressure on our time and the demand for the service, it was hard to justify anything that might reduce capacity. I know this is not reflective of all Learning Developers and Learning Development Teams – but I also think it is common. It can be challenging to argue a different path when that can reduce capacity.
What does this all mean for this week..?
Back to this week’s teaching
It might feel like this post went a bit off-topic – but bare with me. As I alluded to above, the exciting thing about these first sessions I delivered as a lecturer is that the workshops were activity-based. Don’t get me wrong – I will also deliver lectures – but the most substantive part of my teaching will involve workshops similar to this. Obviously, this approach is not new to me, but it has been a while. I hadn’t realised how much I missed this approach until this week. It feels like I’ve left the thirdspace only to rediscover one of the signatures of my old practice. It’s been exhilarating to be facilitating once again. Delivering so much content without the structure of slides made this all intellectually stimulating.
Workshops in practice
My first workshop focused on supporting L7 students with understanding research. It was based on three questions, and I intentionally made no detailed plans as we were expecting late arrivals. This means that I had no idea if I would have three people in the room, or 30. The lack of detailed plans allowed me to be flexible with what I delivered, and I rocked up with flipcharts and marker pens as I think they allow a lot of options. After introductions, I asked students to share what they already knew about research and get it all down on flipchart paper. This was to reassure everyone that they had a starting point of pre-existing knowledge, and it also allowed everyone the opportunity to get to know each other. The two hours sped past and were over before we knew it. It felt dynamic, engaging and student centred. It feels like a while since I’ve been able to deliver content like this!
This opportunity continued into the afternoon with my L6 session. We were discussing research philosophy and positionality – which worked perfectly as a dynamic session. Everyone placed themselves on a spectrum of positivism to interpretivism and then mapped their own positionality. The discussion and debate in this session were outstanding, and I got some great feedback from the students. It was freeing to be delivering this type of session again, and I look forward to more of this next week.
The best thing about both workshops is that I will see the same group of students next week. I mentioned this in my last post, but it remains nice to think that we can build upon what we started this week. I also believe that as we get to know each other more, the co-learning and knowledge construction will no doubt grow. I think this is important for educational research as we bring part of ourselves into research. This means discussing ourselves. Anyone undertaking such research needs to be a reflexive, self-aware and critical practitioner. Talking about ourselves is always easier with people we know.