On the bus to the PgCert Introductory Lecture in Holborn, but a lorry seems to be blocking us and nothing is moving. A girl talking on her mobile phone shares this and makes it sound even duller than it is. She says “A truck is stuck and blocking our path. I can’t believe it.”
Up at Holborn, the first task for me and another two volunteers is stocking each chair with a sticky note (for people to write their name), a blank red piece of paper (presumably to write something important), and a booklet (which I left behind and have consequently forgotten). Soon the room is full with all three cohorts and we’re set for some large group learning.
Lindsay has laid out a selection of well-established books on HE pedagogy on a table at the corner of the room. She has also laid out a tray of biscuits, which she later explains, is a means of getting us socialising and talking to each other.
I am distracted for most of the start as I’ve spotted Tara, an old classmate from the RCA, so I’m trying to get her attention. She occasionally looks my way, but she is somehow looking through me. I’m smiling and waving my hand but nothing. Eventually I notice the guy next to her has started smiling and nodding back at me, so I stop.
We have written our names on the sticky notes and applied them to ourselves, now we’re meeting one another, stating where we work and what’s big in our lives. I am sitting next to Iñaki who I’ve already met, but we go through the statements anyway. I teach at Camberwell, what’s big in my life is that I’m doing a PgCert and the course I teach on is getting canned in June.
The guy sitting in front of us looks Greek, which is mildly distracting. But he introduces himself as Husam, a Lebanese born in Germany. That sets me off on how my dad was a Greek born in Turkey and my mum is a Kiwi born in the UK, but I feel like I’m going into too much detail here. He asks if I’m Greek and I say yes.
I never get to hear what’s big in his life, as the lights go on and off which is Lindsay’s signal that time’s up.
There is a barcode on the screen we’re meant to scan but it doesn’t seem to be working. “Technology doesn’t always work” Lindsay says, who is handling it pretty well as she’s smiling and doing something on the computer. I’d be having a meltdown. Later on a guy with a step ladder appears and does something to the projector.
I have my first experience of large group learning. We are asked to split up into groups of 6, then into smaller groups of 3 to discuss a quote: Technique is what teachers use until the real teacher arrives. Husam explains we need to synthesise both group responses into a single question. The whole class of 100 students is talking at once which is pretty loud.
The group initially criticises the concept of a ‘real teacher’ as being outdated, then questions who decides what is or is not ‘real’. I take a positive angle towards the quote for reasons I don’t fully understand. I suggest technique could be seen as a path to ‘real’ teaching, then I suggest the possibility of a ‘real teacher’ being a reference to another aspect of one’s self. I appear to have an ally in the student diagonally opposite who is nodding her head but whose name tag isn’t readable. Husam, who was sceptical at first, now says “I like where this is going.”
The sound in the room is now deafening. We are all bending forwards, squinting our faces and shouting at each other. Husam seems to have taken a leadership role, and is quite good at it, but I can tell he’s also feeling the strain. I want to cup my ears but instead I nod along to everything, regularly answering ‘No’ when asked if I’ve understood.
The question “What is the real teacher?” is suggested by Husam’s group. I suggest “What is the real teacher’s techniques?” which gets a nod from my ally, but is rejected as a ‘meta-question’ by Husam so I go along with it, as he seems to be our leader now.
Iñaki, next to me, who has been out of ear shot for most of the discussion, is now offering his insights. His disagrees and is voicing his angle to Husam who is listening, but who now looks thoroughly tired. Iñaki makes several points but the group seems reluctant to engage anymore, as listening to anything at all has become quite impossible with the current noise level.
I know I’m also getting distracted as my eyes have wandered up to the ceiling and along to the corner of the room to settle on the biscuit table.
Our group synthesises its responses with the question: ‘What is the teacher?’ but for some reason, it no longer makes any sense to me, and I wonder why we chose it in the first place.
However, I don’t share this with anyone as they seem relieved the task is over.
The next slide has 3 sticky notes (pale blue, yellow and green). Lindsay is handing out pale blue, yellow and green actual sticky notes which I find immensely satisfying. We must write down Events, Experiences and Concepts relating to Higher Education and place them on a timeline from 1960 to 2025.
For Events Iñaki suggests ‘Erasmus’ and we pin it somewhere in the 1970s. Our third group member suggests ‘Introduction of fees’ as Concepts and explains how different interest rates have lead to unpayable debt. For Experiences I write ‘I studied for free’ which I immediately regret as it seems juvenile, especially when stuck alongside ‘Civil Rights Movement’ and ‘Social Constructivism’ on the word wall.
I think I’m low on sugar. I don’t feel like I can do any more discussions, and doubt I can even make it to the end.
Once we stick our notes on the wall Lindsay goes along and places the names and dates of important reports, so we see how our experiences are connected to these. I find out about the Coldstream Report in 1960 which placed Art & Design education within an academic framework, and I wonder if this blog could be considered academic.
At the break, I speak to Tara who is genuinely surprised to see me, so she wasn’t avoiding me after all. As we catch up I suggest we move towards the biscuit table where I proceed to eat three biscuits as I haven’t had any lunch. I head to the canteen for some tea to accompany my biscuits, but when I return the class has resumed and now Katie is talking about UAL’s Disability Service which means I can no longer access the biscuit table. I spend most of the talk wondering if I’m in any way disabled, then realise that’s not the point.
Lindsay is now talking about issues we may have with concentration which, if I’m being honest, should concern me greatly. She talks us through some apps (which I ignore), ways of restricting mobile phone use (which I immediately reject) and suggests a book, ‘Homo Distractus’, which I rather like the sound of.
Then it seems we’re back in groups, as Iñaki and I are talking again. We have to come up with an answer to the statement: To what extent are individuals personally responsible for their success? For some reason I take the lead and start talking which I think is the result of a sugar rush caused by the biscuits. I describe how I studied for years and my parents paid and eventually I ran out of courses to do and they ran out of money but by then I’d become quite good and I made some money but now I’m not making so much money anymore so in theory I’d have to start studying again, then I realise I am studying, that’s what the PgCert is, at which point it dawns on me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Iñaki mercifully steps in to quote Spanish writer Ortega Y Gasset: “You are 50% your self and 50% your circumstances”. I feel calm in this short sentence, simply put. I conclude that for me, it was 90% circumstances and 10% myself. We later change that to 75% 25% and type it on my laptop which makes it appear alongside everyone else’s answers on the class screen which is now working, probably because of something the guy did on the ladder.
I feel too tired to read everyone’s answers though, plus I’m still wondering why we made our percentages end with a ‘5’ rather than any other number. I think we all are quite tired though, because under What is the justification for some people earning less than others?, it reads “It also depends on the hours of work”, which I don’t think was the point of the question.
I think we’re nearing the end.
Lindsay is now reading out people’s questions written on the little red cards and answering them. I’d like to ask something but realise I never wrote or handed in my red card, so I must have missed something along the way. I don’t think I can just yell it out now, there seems to be a process.
Then the class comes to an end, so I get up and take some photos of the word wall for my blog. Then Tara also photographs the word wall, so I photograph it again. Soon everyone’s photographing the word wall, so I step back and photograph them photographing the word wall which gives me some satisfaction. But I decide I’m not going to use the word wall for my blog, after all.
The books on HE pedagogy are still laid out in a neat grid. The biscuits are gone.