On the bus to Camberwell College of Arts today, to use the library. The bus trip is just long enough for my left leg to go numb so I end up missing my stop again, as I can’t get up in time. I need to stop crossing my legs when I travel.

There’s a guy with headphones in the library, whose is producing a rhythmic squeaking noise by rubbing his shoe against the desk leg. I’ve looked at him twice but to no avail, he seems to be miles away. I don’t think he’s reading though, I have no idea what he’s doing in a library.

The guy’s left for lunch – he’s left all his stuff here, but hopefully he won’t return for a while.

I read ‘Race and the Neoliberal University’ which was very good, and am now reading ‘Improving Teaching: Enhancing ways of being university teachers’ by Gloria dall’Alba, which I’m struggling with. The leading is very tight too, which I’m finding irritating.

I’ve just referred to my PGCert course emails to double check I actually have to read this text. One email from Lindsay contains advice about struggling with a text: “If you find it too heavy-going, briefly note down what you’re finding difficult, then put it to one side and come back to it later or first thing in the morning, when your mind is well rested.” Tomorrow seems like an excellent suggestion, but it turns out we’re discussing it at class tomorrow, so it’s not helpful.

Following Lindsay’s advice, I note down what I’m finding difficult: the leading which is far too tight, and the excessive amount of words per line which makes it hard to read. I’m not finding the language very engaging either, and have read the words ‘epistemology’ and ‘ontology’ more than I care for. I wonder why they can’t use ‘knowing’ and ‘being’ instead? Maybe I want to dumb it down, but I think it would actually read better.

Gloria dall’Alba says “I encourage participants to develop an informed position on the ideas and practices they encounter in the course, not simply to defer to ‘the teacher as authority’. This is where I occasionally encounter some resistance.

This reminded me of an incident on induction day, where a student deferred to John as authority by asking “So, what are we meant to write in this blog?” John encouraged him to develop an informed position by answering “Whatever you want to write”. The student sought further clarification by saying “So, what I had for breakfast, then?” and John said “If that’s what you want to write”. This seemed to settle the matter because the student concluded “I’ll write what I ate for breakfast then” to which John replied “Great, I’ll look forward to reading it.” 

This way, John resisted the role of an authority figure offered by a student reluctant to depart from a conventional student–teacher model. 

Had a break for lunch. Chicken and rice again, but this time Thai Green Curry Chicken. I can’t say I recognised the flavour, but it was definitely green. The canteen staff at Camberwell don’t ask whether I’m student or staff and I’m embarrassed to say, so I paid full price. A bit confusing as it was less than yesterday’s chicken and rice at LCC which I thought I got a discount for. 

Anyway, I’m only on page 4 of ‘Improving Teaching’ so I need to plough on.

Finished ‘Improving Teaching’.

Gloria dall’Alba says “One of the challenges for me is to deal constructively with the mixed roles of teacher and student that participants are likely to experience. One means of doing this is to question the conventional student role many have experienced, especially during undergraduate studies.” 

This made me think how I often try to copy my favourite teachers when I teach, but this text suggests that when I do so, I am drawing on a conventional and outdated student/teacher relationship. I don’t like the idea of my teaching being outdated, but I guess that’s why I’m doing this course.

What I also draw on while teaching are all my years of psychotherapy, during which I mostly talked. Now I let my students talk and I listen, just like my therapist did. This made me ponder the similarities of teachers’ and therapists’ roles, but I didn’t get beyond the rather unhelpful comparison of students and patients, so I left it at that.

Either way, there is great skill in listening to someone and nodding at the right moment.

I realise I haven’t quoted ‘Race and the Neoliberal University’ despite finding it enjoyable to read and enlightening. But we’ll no doubt talk about it in our group discussion tomorrow, so I’ll look forward to that. I also look forward to finding out how a conversation between 100 people is conducted, as I could use some tips for my classrooms.

Slightly worried as I read Lindsay’s email more closely. She says she included ‘Improving Teaching’ as “there is some core terminology in the article (e.g. pedagogy, epistemology, ontology) that it would be good to start playing with (without letting it bother you). I’d also like to know how you get on the structure and tone of a typical academic article.” This doesn’t bode well for me.

While I’m still at the library, I borrow ‘Teaching for Quality Learning at University’ by John Biggs and Catherine Tang which apparently is a well-established book on HE pedagogy. It is published by The Society for Research into Higher Education who I’ve never heard of, but that probably says more about me than them. Anyway, I feel good at having taken out a book, although it’s 350 pages long, so I’m not sure I’ll ever read it.

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