Fostering Cultural Creativity in Foreign Language Classrooms

Fostering Cultural Creativity in Foreign Language Classrooms

As language is one of the prominent ways in which people express their cultures, language classrooms cannot be isolated from the teaching of cultures. In addition to four basic skills of language, which are listening, speaking, writing, and reading, culture is suggested to be regarded as the fifth skill of language classroom (Kramsch, 1993). Culture can be defined as concepts carrying historical roots represented through symbols, characters, or interactions in the daily lives of people (Geertz, 1973).

Culture comes from the Latin word colere, meaning to cultivate, which implies developing and pursuing common goals. It entails being a part of a group that shares a mutual past, collective thinking, and a language (Kramsch, 1998).

Using language activities to help student develop a multicultural understanding

While the main emphasis of the language lesson is generally on the culture of the target language, providing a perspective through students’ own culture helps them to develop multicultural understanding. When the students recognize and evaluate the values of their own culture and the target culture, they can better adapt to cultural differences and do not have a sense of intimidation or alienation (Byram, Lloyd & Schneider, 1995; Byram, Holmes & Savvides, 2013).

UNESCO (2017) highlights culture as one of the key steps to consider while developing textbooks and materials. Knowing the culture helps the learner gain perspective and better communicate out of the classroom context. However, developing cultural awareness is not a task that can be handled quickly through a few activities, books, or exercises when limited exposure to language is taken into consideration during foreign language learning. Cultural diversity needs to be represented through content, images, depictions of genders, races, and religions. If teachers design materials themselves, they need to pay attention to such inclusive elements.

Using digital tools in foreign language lessons to improve cultural awareness

Increasing use of digital media positively affects learning about culture in language classrooms as students can work on the target language while practising their 21st-century skills. Language classrooms may not always have a multicultural structure if the students come from the same background. By integrating multimedia and web tools in the classroom, learners can reach out to peers from different countries, share their experiences in practising the language and overcome some of the challenges they face while learning. Interactions through social networking platforms, emails, web 2.0 tools, recordings, and video conferences with target language speakers are among contemporary ways to improve cultural awareness and connection (Murray & Bolinger, 2001;Wu, Marek & Chen, 2013).

Teachers can help the students get to know the culture and provide a network to make them witness a culturally diverse setting. Teachers should pave the way for creating a harmonious classroom, as is indicated in the photo above, welcoming all races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, and disabilities.

Practical tips for teachers to promote cultural diversity in foreign language classrooms

Nowadays, language teachers try to focus more on communicative techniques and blend them with process and product-based instructions (Richards, 2006). Projects, portfolios, learning journals, and collaborative works are popular in designing learner-centered lessons. While giving such assignments, teachers can encourage the use of authentic materials that represent different ways of life and communicative styles. Even if there is no access to technological resources, adapting lesson plans, curriculums, and materials to implement cultural teaching can be a good solution.

In addition to using coursebooks or teacher-made instructional materials, integrating different teaching resources allows student autonomy to have dynamic learning of culture in language classrooms.

Here are 12 simple ways of familiarizing students with cultures and fostering cultural creativity: 

  • greeting each other in various languages in the morning
  • reading about or bringing realia like food, clothing, crafts or any kind of daily objects from different cultures
  • playing music from other cultures and doing some dictation activities with lyrics
  • bringing in authentic materials like newspaper or magazine articles, posters about the lesson topic of the week and creating a bulletin board in the classroom or a page on portfolio websites
  • encouraging students to display learning journals, diaries or making posters out of them to display on the bulletin boards or portfolio websites
  • inviting or video conferencing with a native speaker or a target language speaker who also has proficient knowledge about the culture
  • communicating online with penpals from the target culture
  • introducing and practising cultural etiquettes
  • practising non-verbal cues like facial expressions or gestures from the target culture
  • writing collaborative online blogs, recording podcasts or videos about cultural elements
  • celebrating the special days or festivals of target cultures along with the ones in local culture to embrace diversity and awareness
  • organizing a cultural day in which students introduce concepts or materials from the target cultures

Teachers often want to focus on teaching culture, but they may not know how to implement the cultural content in the lessons or may experience other constraints like lack of material, time, or planning (Castro, Sercu & Méndez García, 2004; Young & Sachdev, 2011). Taking simple steps to engage in activities like the ones suggested above can help boost interest in cultural topics and raise cultural awareness. Such a positive classroom atmosphere and the dynamic between students and teachers promote cultural awareness for improved interaction.

Dilara Özel

Dilara Özel

PhD Student and Research Assistant at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey

Dilara Özel is a PhD student and also a research assistant in Guidance and Psychological Counseling program at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. She received her master’s degree from the same department in METU with a master thesis titled An Examination of Needs and Issues at Refugee- Receiving Schools in Turkey from the Perspectives of School Counselors. She is an alumnus of the Faculty of Education Bachelor’s Program in Guidance and Psychological Counseling department at Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. She worked as a volunteer at several projects and trained in peace education, conflict resolution, and human rights. Then, she gave short training sessions on negotiation and mediation techniques. Dilara worked as a school counsellor at a private college with preschoolers. Her research interests are peace education, multicultural education and refugee studies.

Ayşegül Yurtsever

Ayşegül Yurtsever

English teacher, Bursa, Turkey

Ayşegül Yurtsever is an English teacher in Bursa, Turkey. She completed her master’s degree in English Language Teaching from Hacettepe University in Ankara with a thesis titled A Teacher Inquiry into the Effects of Teacher’s Motivational Activities on Language Learners’ Classroom Motivation. She holds a B.A in ELT from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. She previously worked as an assistant language teacher in Belgium. Her research interests include the psychology of language learning, self and group dynamics.

References

Byram, M., Holmes, P., & Savvides, N. (2013). Intercultural communicative competence in foreign language education: Questions of theory, practice and research. The Language Learning Journal, 41(3), 251-253. doi:10.1080/09571736.2013.83634

Byram, M., Lloyd, K., & Schneider, R. (1995). Defining and describing ‘cultural awareness’. The Language Learning Journal,12(1), 5-8. doi:10.1080/09571739585200321

Castro, P., Sercu, L., & Méndez García, M. C. (2004). Integrating language‐and‐culture teaching: An investigation of Spanish teachers’ perceptions of the objectives of foreign language education. Intercultural Education, 15(1), 91-104. doi:10.1080/1467598042000190013

Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murray, G. L., & Bollinger, D. J. (2001). Developing Cross-Cultural Awareness: Learning Through the Experiences of Others.TESL Canada Journal, 19(1), 62-72. doi:10.18806/tesl.v19i1.920

Wu, W. V., Marek, M., & Chen, N. (2013). Assessing cultural awareness and linguistic competency of EFL learners in a CMC-based active learning context. System, 41(3), 515-528. doi:10.1016/j.system.2013.05.004

Richards, J. C. (2006). Communicative language teaching today. New York: Cambridge University Press.

UNESCO. (2017). Making textbook content inclusive: A focus on religion, gender, and culture. Paris

Young, T. J., & Sachdev, I. (2011). Intercultural communicative competence: Exploring English language teachers’ beliefs and practices. Language Awareness, 20(2), 81-98. doi:10.1080/09658416.2010.540328

Further Reading

Byram, M. & Grundy, P. (eds.) (2002). Context and culture in language teaching and learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

https://www.learningforjustice.org/

https://www.education.com/worksheets/community-cultures/

 

 

 

Enhancing School Leaders’ Digital Capacity in an Era of Change

Enhancing School Leaders’ Digital Capacity in an Era of Change

School leaders in an era of change

In the post-COVID-19 era, educational systems and school organisations must have a concrete digital educational implementation framework. This framework must include a concrete plan on the pedagogical aspect of distance teaching and learning processes. The above reference covers the two most important stakeholders in this particular digital era of educational change: teachers and students in school organisations.

At the other end of the spectrum, school leaders need to maintain their leadership dynamic in these uncharted territories. The digital transformation of education has added a new level of responsibility for school leaders across Europe, even though many consider themselves unqualified or unprepared to integrate this digital aspect into their leading role. An increased level of digital competence is needed.

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic crisis, the European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice noted that European countries need to continually review and develop new strategic policies and measures to meet the new demands for high-quality digital education. (Digital Education at School in Europe 2019). The effects on global education systems have demonstrated the importance of digital education. In particular, one of the two strategic priorities of the current EU Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), which aims to address and support the increased responsibility of Europe’s education and training systems in managing the aftermath of COVID-19, is “to foster a high-performing digital education ecosystem” and the need for “digitally-competent and -confident educators and education & training staff”.

Future steps of digitalisation in school leadership

School leaders need to maintain their leadership dynamic and address any confidence and competence issues to use digital technologies effectively. Educational systems across Europe need to emphasise the importance of school leadership digital capacity by promoting school leaders both as digital coordinators and digital pedagogical leaders.

 

Digital Coordinators

It is important to promote school leaders’ coordination role by fostering strong digital communication with the various internal and external school stakeholders and promoting a digital conflict management system through forums and digital discussion support groups.

Digital Pedagogical Leaders

It is important to promote school leaders’ digital pedagogical role in providing support to teachers in integrating digital technologies into their teaching and promote the implementation of digital learning communities among teachers – within their own school organisations, as well as across other school organisations.

 

To enhance school leadership digital capacity, governments and educational policymakers across Europe should rethink the educational sector in this post-COVID-19 era. In particular, the relevant stakeholders should prioritise specific practices to enable effective school leadership based on the digital transformation in school organisations. This is means increasing training, seminars, professional development, and digital support of school leaders. This can be done by engaging other government and private stakeholders with expertise in digital competence (e.g., universities, private companies, other governmental bodies).

For instance, in Italy, universities supported their neighbouring educational settings through their own expertise and provided the necessary professional development to ensure the basics of e-learning (Girelli, Bevilacqua & Acquaro, 2021).

In Cyprus, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (whose main activities focus on teachers’ and school leaders’ pre-service and in-service training), as well as with the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy to implement the e-learning process across Cyprus (Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020).

In addition, a proper budget allocation, together with appropriate educational policies, is essential to enhance school leaders’ digital capacity. In particular, this concerns the technological infrastructure that should be integrated into the school organisations and the collaboration with various organisations and enterprises with digital competence that will assist the development of school leaders’ professional training and capacity. Therefore, EU states and, in particular, Ministries of Education and Ministries of Finances need to closely cooperate in order to have adequate revenues to meet the needs of their school members, including school leaders, during this new digital era.

Final Thoughts

The open public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan (2021) report conducted research in 60 countries with more than 2700 respondents. 95% of respondents considered that the COVID-19 crisis marks a turning point for how digital technology is used in education and training. The situation shed further light on the importance of digital education for the digital transformation that Europe needs.

For school leaders, digital capacity building in this new digital educational development is crucial and necessary action must be taken. In particular, educational policymakers, professional development centres, governments, and other relevant actors need to consider this specific aspect in school leaders’ developmental career –  both as digital coordinators and digital pedagogical leaders – and need to take immediate action to promote the effectiveness of school organisations in this new digital era.

Dr. Antonios Kafa

Dr. Antonios Kafa

Lecturer at Frederick University Cyprus, CY

Dr. Antonios Kafa is a Lecturer in Educational Management and Leadership at Frederick University in Cyprus. His doctoral dissertation was awarded as a “Highly Commended Award Winner”- Emerald/EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards 2016, in the Educational leadership and strategy field. Antonios is a co-convenor of the EERA Network 26 – Educational Leadership and an associate member/ researcher in the international comparative research project entitled “International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP)”, conducting research on behalf of Cyprus. He is, also, one of the members of the Board of Directors of the Cyprus Educational Administration Society (CEAS). His research interests include different aspects of educational leadership and administration such as successful school leadership, school leadership in times of uncertainty, school principals’ personal values systems, authentic school leadership and school leaders’ role in low performing schools.

Email: pre.ka@frederick.ac.cy

Website

References and Further Reading

Digital Education at School in Europe 2019 https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/sites/default/files/en_digital_education_n.pdf

Digital Education Action Plan” (2021-2027) https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/default/files/document-library-docs/deap-communication-sept2020_en.pdf 

COVID-19: What Have We Learned From Italy’s Education System Lockdown Girelli, Bevilacqua & Acquaro, 2021

 

Coping With the Global Pandemic COVID-19 Through the Lenses of the Cyprus Education System Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020

Looking to the Past to think about the Future of Policy Research

Looking to the Past to think about the Future of Policy Research

With the online European Conference on Educational Research 2021 fast approaching, to whet your appetite for what will doubtless be an exciting and stimulating event, you might like to revisit one of the academic highlights of spring 2021 for the Policy Studies and the Politics of Education Network (EERA Network 23). Our Online Seminar Series brought together leading academics in the field of education policy studies, all of whom have a close relationship with Network 23. Over 200 friends and associates of the network registered to attend the four seminars, reflecting the huge contribution made by each of our speakers to education policy research.

In one way or another, our speakers looked to the past to think about the future of critical education policy research.

Navigating Crisis: A reflection on 2020, entangled space-times of education, revisionist work and learning, and making histories

In the first seminar, Terri Seddon, Professor Emeritus of La Trobe University in Melbourne, reflected on the events of 2020 before looking to the future. In a powerful presentation, Terri brought together a variety of images and ideas with findings from a funded research project that investigated policy reform and policy effects in an ‘integrated partnership’ model of teacher education. Terri suggested that historical reading and writing can offer insights into educational knowledge building, and discussed processes of rereading the past and rewriting the future. Finally, in looking towards sustainable futures, Terri considered the place of doubt in partnership work and concluded with thoughts on the remaking of teacher education.

Multiple Temporalities in Critical Policy Sociology in Education

In the second seminar, Bob Lingard, Professorial Fellow in the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education at the Australian Catholic University and Emeritus Professor at The University of Queensland, discussed multiple temporalities in critical education policy sociology. Extending the concept of ‘historically informed’ in Jenny Ozga’s definition of education policy sociology in 1987, Bob considered different conceptions of the temporal which, he suggested, refers to the complex relationships between past, present, and future. Bob then argued that the temporal is neglected in critical education policy sociology, and demands new research and theoretical work. Looking back in time will help us understand the present and possible future in policy terms, and relationships between them.

Elites and Experts in Education Policy

In the third seminar, Jenny Ozga, Professor Emeritus of the University of Oxford and one of the founders of our network, discussed elites and experts in education policy. Jenny drew on work investigating the changing relationship between knowledge, expertise, and policy, looking at the forms of knowledge available to policy actors and the effects of these on the capacity of policy actors, including experts and elites, to govern education. Jenny compared the knowledge technologies and material processes available to policy elites and experts in the 1980s with those in contemporary contexts, to better understand knowledge-policy relationships. She concluded with some thoughts on how the pandemic has affected relationships between experts and policymakers.

Sedimentation and/or re-politicization of a highly marketized education system

In the final seminar, Lisbeth Lundahl and Linda Rönnberg, both Professors at the University of Umea, were joined by Professor Piia Seppänen of the University of Turku to discuss highly marketized education systems, focusing on Sweden. Their work builds on research carried out over several decades on the economisation of public education and its consequences, which include increased social segregation, reduced democratic influence over education, and the impoverishment of curricula. They set each of these in historical perspective within the Swedish context. Based on interviews with leading Swedish system actors, including education business leaders and various interest organisations, Lisbeth, Linda and Piia then reported on the extent to which commodification, privatization and marketization in education have become institutionalized, normalized, and therefore taken for granted. They identified this process as one that Bob Jessop describes as sedimentation, although they remained hopeful that re-politicisation of policy debates was now emerging.

This series provided an opportunity for those within the wider education policy research community to connect with each other. For many, these seminars provided some relief from the enforced isolation of the global pandemic, and were well received by all who attended. The speakers were generous in the time they gave, and provocative and insightful in their presentations. I am sure you will enjoy watching and listening to them, whether for the first time or as a reminder of what was a wonderful series.

Dr Peter Kelly

Dr Peter Kelly

Associate Professor (Reader) in Comparative Education · Plymouth Institute of Education

Peter Kelly is Link Convenor for Network 23: Policy Studies and Politics of Education. If you would like to know more about Network 23, he is happy to be contacted: peter.kelly@plymouth.ac.uk.

References and Further Reading

Alexiadou, Nafsika, Lundahl, Lisbeth & Rönnberg, Linda (2019). Shifting logics: education and privatization the Swedish way, in: J. Wilkinson, R. Niesche & S. Eacott (Eds) Challenges for public education: reconceptualising educational leadership, policy and social justice as resources for hope, London, Routledge. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1267623&dswid=9840

Lingard, Bob (2021) Multiple temporalities in critical policy sociology in education, Critical Studies in Education 62(3) 338-353, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2021.1895856. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17508487.2021.1895856

Manton, Claire, Heffernan, Troy, Kostogriz, Alex & Seddon, Terri (2021) Australian school–university partnerships: the (dis)integrated work of teacher educators, Asia Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 49:3, 334-346, DOI: 10.1080/1359866X.2020.1780563. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1359866X.2020.1780563

Ozga, Jenny (2020) Elites and Expertise: the changing material production of knowledge for policy, in: G. Fan and T. Popkewitz (Eds) Values, Governance, Globalization, and Methodology, Volume 1, Singapore, Springer Open. https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9789811383465

 

Decolonizing Knowledge: Undoing and Reconstructing how we Learn

Decolonizing Knowledge: Undoing and Reconstructing how we Learn

When British-Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah was asked during a lecture about cultural belonging, he suggested avoiding falling victim to the questionable idea that culture belongs to specific groups. Further, if the dubious concept of ‘Westerner’ were to disappear, it needed not be replaced with something else but that we should rather learn to relate to people in different ways, respectful of each other’s differences without an excess of identification. The lecture host (an English woman), cautiously navigating from question to assertion, said in relation to Western civilization, “But what holds us all together are these things you’ve sort of praised: liberalism, human rights, rule of law, all those things. That gives us the right to choose, it gives us control over who we are. There are people around the world, particularly in Islamic countries, who don’t have that kind of choice. And these things ARE Western” (Appiah, 2016, m.30-36).

This view that Western knowledge and culture are somehow the core of a ‘universal knowledge’ and yet very much ‘remaining the history of the West,’ according to Tuhiwai-Smith (2012, p.66), has existed for centuries. In fact, she explains, the colonized cultures and their forms of knowledge were historically repositioned in a way that would allow for the validation of colonial domination and authority by being labeled as ‘oriental’ or ‘outsider’ by colonial powers. In line with this, Mitova (2020) defines the decolonization of knowledge as the necessity to undo our way of thinking about knowledge and to reconstruct it by learning anew and in new ways rather than those imposed on people, institutions, or nations through the process of colonization (Mitova, 2020; Wiredu, 2002).

Because Eurocentrism has succeeded in creating the idea of universal knowledge, Mignolo (2009) encourages us to ask ourselves: who and when, how, and where is knowledge generated?  Grosfoguel (2013) argues (in a description that matches my own experience as a doctoral student in the UK) that the social theory canon in Western universities has become dominated by a few men from five countries: Italy, France, England, Germany, and the USA; to this, I will further add that on a personal level, 80% of my Social Theory classes not only involved men from only two of those five countries (Germany and France) and but also that they were all white, adding an additional element to the self-arrogated intellectual (and sexist) domination: what Grosfoguel (2012) called epistemic racism. I am not arguing that every one of those social theorists was either of those things, but the recognition of their work should not come at the cost of the institutional eradication of other forms of knowledge that, especially since the 1980s, have begun to reshape and re-inform other intellectual traditions: feminist social epistemology, Eastern, African, Africana, Latin American and ‘Continental’(Mitova, 2020). 

Lessons from the Global South

Latin America presents us with a couple of valuable examples from which the academy can perhaps learn; one of them is in Chile, where, as Nuñez (2017) details, beginning in 2008, the Universidad Catolica de Temuco began to tackle the issue of curricular Eurocentrism within their teacher training programs. They started by offering a degree called “Elementary Intercultural Pedagogy in the Mapuche[1] context”. They also experimented by offering a program titled “Pedagogical Experience in Intercultural Approaches”, geared towards increasing sociocultural indigenous knowledge amongst graduate students in Education.

Burman (2016) offers a somewhat similar example from his experience in Bolivia. While researching within an Aymara community there, he was able to talk to a number of indigenous activists who remained deeply skeptical of Evo Morales’[2] policies regarding decolonization and interculturality. The activists viewed these policies as a disguised perpetuation of the colonial mode of knowledge production in Bolivia. While the Bolivian government did create indigenous universities (something that has not happened in Chile) and introduced reforms into the national educational system, many activists distrusted these policies and engaged in ‘epistemic and ontological disobedience’ (ibid, p.20). The activists opened their own spaces for knowledge creation, such as indigenous universities that function outside the national framework, as well as community sessions and seminars where indigenous people, including intellectuals, are invited to guide debates and deliberations regarding ways to preserve their knowledge and therefore, their social experience. These acts of disobedience are guided, according to Burman, by defiance to three elements that in his view have become an intrinsic part of Bolivia’s intellectual colonization:

 

“…the subjugation of subjectivities (“Be who we want you to be!”); epistemic domination (“Know what we want you to know and in the way we want you to know; create the kind of knowledge we want you to and in the way we want you to!”); and ontological domination (“Live in the one and only world we recognize as real!”). (Burman, 2016, p. 21)

 

Of course, the issue here is not the number, quality, or contributions of Eurocentric philosophers; as Dabashi (2015) elaborates, the question is not how Eurocentric Europeans are, but rather how European thinking has continued to reach a level of universality that has come to the detriment of non-European visions. Perhaps these examples from Latin American nations can offer us lessons to draw from that would allow us to embrace the fact that, as has been argued and widely demonstrated (de Sousa Santos, 2001, 2014, 2018; Smith, 2012; Apple, 2011, 2012, 2013; Semali and Kincheloe, 1999), there is no one single source of knowledge, not one single knowledge pursuit and not one single, linear development of knowledge.

The challenge for Western higher education institutions is to start thinking about ways to give these non-Eurocentric perspectives and knowledge not only wider recognition but also a broader space within their curriculum. As new feminist, Eastern, African, Latin American, and indigenous voices emerge within the academy, we must ask, how much are we paying attention and how much are we listening to them?

Gaston Bacquet

Gaston Bacquet

Associate Tutor, University of Glasgow

Gaston Bacquet works as an Associate Tutor at the University of Glasgow, where he supervises master’s dissertations within the TESOL program and where he is also a first-year PhD student in Education. His research seeks to develop inclusive teaching practices in Latin American classrooms using an intersection of Critical Pedagogy and non-Western knowledge systems.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gaston-bacquet-59a38b9b/
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Gaston_Bacquet2
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9802-7249

References and Further Reading

[1] Mapuches are the largest indigenous community in Chile, and Temuco, the city where the university in question is based, is located near a large Mapuche enclave in the south of Chile

[2] Evo Morales, a former farmer and an Aymara person himself, was the president of Bolivia from 2006 to 2019.

 

Appiah, K.A. (2018). The lies that bind: Rethinking Identity. New York: Liveright (Based on his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures).

Apple, M.(2011). Democratic education in neoliberal and neoconservative times. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 21(1), 21–31.

Apple, M. (2012b). Knowledge, power, and education: The selected works of Michael W. Apple. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. (2013). Can Education Change Society? New York; Routledge.

Burman, A. (2016). Indigeneity and Decolonization in the Bolivian Andes: Ritual Practice and Activism. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Dabashi, H. (2015). Can Non-Europeans Think? London: Zed Books.

de Sousa Santos, B. (2001). Nuestra America. Theory, Culture & Society, 18(2–3), 185–217.

de Sousa Santos, B. (2014). Epistemologies of the South. New York: Routledge.

De Sousa Santos, B. (2018). The end of the cognitive empire: the coming of age of epistemologies of the South. Durham: Duke University Press.

Grosfoguel, R. (2012). The Dilemmas of Ethnic Studies in the United States: Be­tween Liberal Multiculturalism, Identity Politics, Disciplinary Colonization, and Decolonial Epistemologies. Human Archi­tecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowl­edge, X (I), 81-90.

Grosfoguel, R. (2013). Epistemic Racism/Sexism, Westernized Universities and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long Sixteenth Century, in Araujo, M. & Rodriguez Maeso, S. (Eds.), Eurocentrism, Racism and Knowledge, Debates on History and Power in Europe and the Americas. London: Palgrave

Mignolo, W. (2009). Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and Decolonial Freedom. Theory, Culture & Society. 26(7-8), 159-181. 

Mitova, V. (2020). Decolonising Knowledge Here and Now, Philosophical Papers, 49(2), 191-212.

Nuñez, D. (2017). Reflecxiones en torno a la interculturalidad y la Educacion Superior en Chile. Polyphōnia, 1, 72-94.

Semali, L.M. and Kincheloe, J.L. (1999) What is indigenous knowledge? Voices from the academy (Eds.) New York/London: Falmer

Tuhiwai-Smith, L. (2012). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People. London: Zed (2nd Edition).

Wiredu, K. (2002). Conceptual decolonization as an imperative in contemporary African philosophy: some personal reflections. Rue Descartes, 36(2), 53-64.

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

It is undisputed that Covid has had a massive impact on education and the way it is delivered, both in the UK and internationally. Whilst there have been a number of papers on the ways in which teachers have innovated during this time, and the impact this has had on their workload and mental health, there has been little on how school leaders and their senior teams have taken a strategic overview of online and blended learning. This post takes a look at a funded research project and explores why this area is so important for school leadership, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The recent pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges for school leadership teams and their staff. Almost overnight, they have had to create policies and working practices in a very short timeframe. One leader reported that a strategy meant to take three years had been achieved in three weeks!

In England, secondary schools have been shut down for the duration of two lockdown periods for all but the children of essential workers. Evidence from our pilot project suggests that school leaders have not only changed policies and practices but in many cases, their vision for education. The project, leading school learning through Covid 19 and beyond: online learning and strategic planning through and post lockdown in English secondary schools, investigates how senior leaders strategically planned for online learning – before, during, and after the pandemic. Our sample includes interviews with 70 senior leaders from English secondary schools, along with a questionnaire sent out via project partners to 4000 schools, and an analysis of 200 school websites.

 

level I – this is the lowest level of digital planning, in which technology is used passively by particular teachers in particular subjects to support learning. This level is termed – substitution. Level II this is where traditional pedagogy is adapted for online, this level is termed – augmentation. Level III – modification – this is where strategic thought is given to the design of online learning and enhancements that add value are implemented. Level IV – strategic planning for online learning – this links to a whole school or departmental approach.
Figure 1 : Strategic Planning for Online learning: Level 1 to 4, adapted from Puntedura, 2021.

Our project classifies the different levels of strategic planning for online education, via an adapted version of Puntedura’s (Puentedura, 2010), SAMR Model, in which the lowest level of planning is termed substitution, the second level is termed augmentation, the third level is termed modification, and the final and most advanced level is termed strategic planning for online learning. (See figure 1). It adopts a strategy as a learning approach which we have used successfully in previous projects relating to educational leadership and management (Baxer & Floyd, 2019; J.  Baxter, 2020; J Baxter & John, 2021).

Challenges

Analysis of the pilot project suggests some key themes that are emerging in both qualitative and quantitative data. It is clear that school leaders made some substantial changes to the management of online learning in the period between the first lockdown in March 2020 and the second principal lockdown in the winter of 2020/ 2021. For example, school leaders reported considerable issues with hardware and connectivity, particularly during the first lockdown. Evidence suggests that they have subsequently been creative in acquiring these elements, ensuring that learners were properly equipped to engage with learning during lockdown two.  

One of the major categories that has emerged within the study is well-being and care: this in terms of both teacher and learner welfare. School leaders appear to have placed the well-being of their staff and learners first and foremost. They report considerable stress amongst staff, and challenges in relation to learners, particularly those with particular learning needs, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This aligns with the findings of a report by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Leaders have also reported the considerable investment of time needed in building the competencies of parents and carers. This has offered both challenges and opportunities with engaging parents more fully in the learning processes of their children. Communication with parents and learners, and not least in managing online teachers and teams, was also a challenge. Yet again, out of the crisis, there appears to have been some considerable learning taking place, with senior leaders speaking to SEN students and their carers, in some cases on a weekly or even daily basis.

Leaders report that one of the most important tasks during lockdown has been establishing a baseline for effective teaching. Some schools cut down on curriculum to focus on the essentials. Sorting out policies and protocols with staff, governors, and unions, has taken up a great deal of management time, but respondents largely feel that it has been a worthwhile task going forward.

Opportunities

There is considerable evidence of pedagogical innovation and creativity, particularly during the second lockdown when school staff were taken less by surprise. Leaders report evidence of new ideas being tried and tested by teachers, free from the normal constraints. They also report new roles being created as a result of an enhanced focus on digital learning. For example, a new head of digital strategy and innovation at one multi-academy trust; a new head of digital training and development for both teachers and parents in the same MAT.

There is also evidence that some senior leaders are beginning to view education in a different way: one head of a multi-academy trust had already brokered a relationship with Apple to move the whole curriculum online. New and innovative practices adopted during Covid, born out of necessity, are reported as now being ‘business as usual’. An example of this is parent evenings – once held face-to-face and often poorly attended, particularly in schools in challenging areas – which have been much more successful online. Several school leaders state their intention to continue this practice and extend it to governor meetings and, in some cases, staff meetings too.

 In terms of quality assurance, this is one area that presented school leaders with their biggest challenges. But from the second lockdown onwards, some schools had already introduced strategies for peer observation of teaching, virtual learning walks, and other innovations to promote and sustain good practice. Some respondents reported using online engagement statistics to measure learner engagement.

One particularly interesting area reported by one senior multi-Academy trust leader: a number of teachers and headteachers across over 15 schools reported that quieter pupils, those who didn’t normally respond well in class, had engaged far more fully with lessons when delivered digitally. This is a potentially intriguing area that could be taken forward concerning introverted students and their more extroverted peers.

Going Forward

The central part of the framework links to well-being and access to learning in the next concentric circle moving outwards, is trust, communication, data privacy. The next concentric circle contains four quadrants, four aspects of digital learning in secondary schools: one – design differentiated learning experience for all students; two – build competencies of teacher students parents and carers; three – collaborate in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core; four – develop the digital environment with a combination of approaches. Outside the circle are for headings these headings indicate that the subjects are overarching in relation to the other quadrants of the circle: pedagogical innovation, flexibility and partnership, resources and infrastructure, equity ability and inclusivity.

The pilot research has revealed some interesting findings that will be taken forward into the main phase. It has also resulted in a theoretical framework for our research. This is illustrated in figure 2.

As can be seen in the framework, we place well-being and access to learning central to the future development of digital innovation in secondary schools.

The second part of our framework includes:

  • designing a differentiated learning experience for students
  • the importance of building the competencies of teachers, students, parents, and carers
  • collaboration in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core
  • developing a digital environment via a combination of approaches.

We look forward to continuing our reporting on the project, which will give rise to a free online course for school leaders hosted on the Open University’s open learning platform.

 Further details of our project, or to take part, see our website at: https://www.open.ac.uk/projects/leading-online-learning/

 or follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Covid_EduLeader

References and Further Reading

Baxer, J., & Floyd, A. (2019). Strategic narrative in multi‐academy trusts in England: Principal drivers for expansion. British Educational Research Journal, 45(5), 1050-1071.

Baxter, J. (2020). Schemes of delegation as governance tools : the case of multi academy trusts in education under review.

Baxter, J., & John, A. (2021). Strategy as learning in multi-academy trusts in England: strategic thinking in action. School Leadership & Management, 1-21. doi: 10.1080/13632434.2020.1863777

Jewitt, K., Baxter, J., & Floyd, A. (2021). Literature review on the use of online and blended learning during Covid 19 and Beyond. The Open University The Open University

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management The Open University Business School

Dr Jacqueline Baxter is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education (SCILAB). She is Principal Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences and Elected Council Member of Belmas. She is outgoing Editor in Chief of the Sage Journal Management in Education (MiE) Her current funded research projects examine the interrelationship between trust, accountability, and capacity in improving learning outcomes; and the strategic management of online learning in secondary schools during and beyond Covid19.

Dr Baxter is based in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School.

She tweets @drjacqueBaxter and her profile can be found at: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/jab899. Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University

Dr Katharine Jewitt is a Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University. Katharine works across four faculties (Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies, Faculty for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, Faculty of Business and Law and The Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnership) and teaches at access, undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Professor Alan Floyd

Professor Alan Floyd

University of Reading

Alan Floyd is a Professor of Education and his research and teaching activity focus on two substantive areas: educational leadership and doctoral education. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Academic leadership
  • School leadership and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)
  • How people perceive and experience being in a leadership role
  • Distributed and collaborative leadership
  • Leadership development
  • Career trajectories
  • Identity Insider research and associated ethical issues
  • Supporting doctoral researchers
Tricky Physics: What’s Fun Got To Do With It?

Tricky Physics: What’s Fun Got To Do With It?

When Katherine Langford spoke to six GCSE Physics teachers about the challenges encountered by children in the classroom, they all mentioned the use of fun approaches to learning. Thanks to The Open University’s spaces for interdisciplinary conversations between doctoral students, this caught Emily Dowdeswell’s attention. Emily is currently researching children’s perceptions of ‘fun’ in learning within the RUMPUS research group. While fun is often mentioned in interview data, the concept itself is typically taken for granted, or at face value. Are education researchers and practitioners missing a trick by not engaging with “fun” more deeply?

Should studying Physics be more fun? Or is fun simply too inconsequential for ‘hard’ subjects like Physics? The teachers interviewed engage their students by making Physics more fun and approachable. One teacher said, “I feel strongly that if children aren’t enjoying a lesson, they’re not going to learn it. If the class are bored stiff by what you’re doing, nothing is going in”.

What Makes Physics Tricky?

Still taken from video by Katherine Langford

It’s no secret that some Physics topics are particularly tricky for students to understand. Mukesh Tekwani, a retired college teacher with 35 years of experience, discussed this in his 2020 blog post, arguing that once you know why students find topics difficult, you can work your way to make them easy, interesting, and useful. So, why is Physics often tricky to students?

All the teachers interviewed mentioned three topics – electricity, forces, and radioactivity – that students frequently find tricky. However, identifying why these topics are tricky was more problematic. Analysing the interviews revealed 55 interconnected and subtle factors that the teachers discussed as barriers to students learning Physics. These included:

  1. Misconceptions are difficult to get rid of as students often reject scientifically accurate concepts in preference of keeping their own incorrect ideas
  2. Many Physics concepts are abstract or difficult to picture
  3. Past teaching (particularly at primary school) can cause misconceptions
  4. Students do not have the Maths skills needed
  5. Students often fail to make links between related concepts
  6. Misconceptions can be caused by language (e.g., the nucleus of an atom being confused with the nucleus of a cell in Biology)
  7. Misconceptions can be caused by popular culture, like films
  8. Simple concepts can link to difficult concepts
  9. Physics concepts are often counterintuitive and conflict with students’ everyday experiences
  10. Even scientists don’t fully understand some concepts yet
Still taken from video by Katherine Langford

Several of the 55 factors related to students’ attitudes towards Physics. Two of the main attitude factors were that Physics is hard and that Physics is boring. According to one teacher, students who find Physics difficult sometimes “automatically think that they can’t do it”. Often students believe Physics is the hardest of the sciences. Some convince themselves Physics is difficult before they enter the classroom. Two teachers discussed how students switch off from learning if they do not see the point of the lesson. This attitude is particularly evident amongst students who have decided not to continue with Physics beyond GCSE.

Still taken from video by Katherine Langford

So, many complex and interrelated factors affect Physics learning. Student attitudes regarding Physics being difficult and boring negatively impact their learning. A study by Jennifer DeWit, Louise Archer, and Julie Moote explores what insights might be gained from students themselves. Their study confirms the influence of cultural assumptions around Physics leads many students to conclude that Physics ‘is not for me’. Highlighting that participation in post-compulsory Physics increasingly matters for both economic and equity reasons, they concluded that making changes to the way Physics is taught and experienced in the classroom was a priority.

Using Fun to Change Attitudes to Physics

The teachers interviewed use fun experiments and demonstrations to change how students experience Physics. Several teachers mentioned collecting resources – particularly videos and online materials – to aid student understanding in an enjoyable way. Another strategy involved offering real-life examples to demonstrate that Physics is relevant to their everyday life. The teachers invest in these practices– that are often time-consuming – because they feel student enjoyment is linked to their motivation which impacts their understanding. So, is their faith in fun approaches to learning justified by research? What evidence is there to show fun is having any impact at all?

Peter Gray noticed the concept of ‘fun’ emerging repeatedly during his time as Research Fellow of the Early Professional Learning (EPL) project. He described a broader trend to attach fun to Physics without any meaningful engagement into its usefulness as a concept to teachers. Gray argued that fun played a part in the classroom ecology of teaching and learning whether teachers invested in its creation or not. The study underlined that fun was missing from the language of educational policymakers, and that fun was often positioned as disruptive. Fun was linked to intrinsic motivation and could be combined with effective learning as the antithesis to boring, ineffective learning. Even typically hard subjects could be fun, so that the teaching rather than the topic was crucial.

The debate regarding the usefulness of fun is reflected in a 2020 study into fun in online learning. The majority of students agreed that enjoyment, happiness and fun were important to effective learning. Yet, 19% of students also agreed that fun activities can get in the way of learning. Like Gray, Ale Okada and Kieron Sheehy discussed how fun can be positioned as transgressive, embraced by some but seen as an unnecessary distraction by those who adopt traditional transmission views of learning. This highlights the need for further research to ensure that well intentioned attempts to make learning fun don’t backfire and cause students to become less engaged.

Image by Katherine Langford

All six teachers interviewed noted that student attitudes towards Physics influenced their learning. They are clearly aware of the importance of student enjoyment and its link to motivation and are prepared to invest in potentially time-consuming activities despite the pressures on their time.

However, fun is under-researched, as past classroom research has shown that what teachers think is fun is not necessarily the same as what students find fun. Nor do we know what the impact of fun is clearly. While the interviews are a preliminary study, the findings resonate with the wider literature. So what do these teachers now need from education research? How can we support them to change perceptions about Physics? Perhaps we need to challenge our perceptions of fun being frivolous and convince leadership and policymakers to allow teachers the time to invest in fun.

Emily Dowdeswell

Emily Dowdeswell

2nd Year PhD Student

Emily Dowdeswell is approaching the end of her first year of doctoral research at the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS).

Her area of study includes the intersections between anthropology, the arts, creativity and education.

You can find out more about Emily’s research at http://wels.open.ac.uk/rumpus or on Twitter https://twitter.com/intracommons 

Katherine Langford

Katherine Langford

PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)

Katherine Langford, BSc (Hons), MBPsS, is a third-year

Katherine Langford

part-time PhD student at the Open University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). She is researching how secondary school students develop an understanding of especially tricky Physics topics including what intuitive theories, common problems, and misconceptions they have.
Orcid: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0080-6023

References and Further Reading

DeWitt, J., Archer, L. & Moote, J. (2019) “15/16-Year-Old Students’ Reasons for Choosing and Not Choosing Physics at A Level”. International Journal of Science and Math Education 17, 1071–1087. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-018-9900-4

Gray, P. “Fun in theory and practice: new teachers, pupil opinion and classroom environments” in McNally, J., & Blake, A. (Eds.). (2009). Improving Learning in a Professional Context: A Research Perspective on the New Teacher in School (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203867020

Okada, A., & Sheehy, K. (2020). “Factors and Recommendations to Support Students’ Enjoyment of Online Learning with Fun: A Mixed Method Study During COVID-19”. Frontiers in Education (Lausanne), 5, Frontiers in education (Lausanne), 2020-12-01, Vol.5. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.584351

Taber, K.S. (2014) Student Thinking and Learning in Science: Perspectives on the Nature and Development of Learners’ Ideas. Routledge.

Chitson, S. (2014) “Why I won’t be studying physics at A-level”. The Guardian retrieved at https://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2014/jul/03/why-i-am-dropping-physics-a-level-student 

If you want to find out more about teaching tricky topics, then you may be interested in this free OpenLearn course.

Results from a Survey on Post-Primary Teachers’ Experiences with Calculated Grading during COVID-19

Results from a Survey on Post-Primary Teachers’ Experiences with Calculated Grading during COVID-19

In May 2020, as a result of Covid-19, the high stakes assessment at the end of post-primary education in Ireland (the Leaving Certificate Examination – LCE) was cancelled replaced by a system of calculated grades. In documentation sent to schools, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) made it clear that a calculated grade would result from the combination of two data sets:

  • an overall percentage mark and ranking in each subject awarded to each student by their teacher (the school-based estimation process)
  • data on past performance of students in each school and nationally (the standardisation process)

Following the issuing of results to students and the completion of the appeals process, an online questionnaire survey was conducted in the final months of 2020 by researchers at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University, with the aim of investigating how teachers’ engaged with the calculated grades process in their schools.  Data from a total of 713 respondents were used in a report published by the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE) on April 15th 2021. This report is now available to download from www.dcu.ie/carpe.  The following are some highlights from this report.

 

Assessment Evidence Used

Teachers considered many different types of formative and summative assessments when estimating mark and ranks for their students. Particularly important were final year exams prior to lockdown (98%) and final year continuous assessments (92%). Four out of every five teachers indicated that knowledge of how previous students had performed in the LC influenced their decision-making.  Significantly, 88% said that formative assessments were important also. One respondent noted:

Personally, I feel very competent in assigning the predicted grades to my LC students in 2020 since I had assessed their performance in detail over a 2-year period…. Each exam/ portfolio/homework was assigned a weighting and a record of their performance updated to our Schoology platform. Students could readily assess their own progress over this period and all this data enabled a solid predicted grade for each student.

 

Teachers’ Reflections on the School-Based Estimation Process

At least 90% of teachers indicated that they were able to apply the DES calculated grades guidelines strictly when estimating marks and ranks for the majority of their students. However, some reported experiencing difficulties in adjudicating marks at grade boundaries.  For example, 61% said that they gave 5% or more of their students the benefit of the doubt and gave them a mark that moved them above a grade boundary, with 21% saying that they should have awarded a failing mark but didn’t.  One-third of respondents said that they awarded a higher mark for 5% or more of their students because they thought the national standardisation process might bring the student’s grade down.  While 73% said that the moderation process to align grades within their schools worked well, 26% reported raising a mark and 17% lowering a mark following engagement in the process. Significantly, the vast majority of teachers (92%) felt that the marks they awarded were fair.

 

Other Reflections

One in three respondents added commentary at the end of the questionnaire, with many focusing on the stress brought about by the fact that they lived in the same small communities as the students they were grading. Many identified parents, school management, media and politicians as sources of the pressure they felt.  One teacher expressed it thus:

I believe that while it would be ok for more teacher involvement in urban centres, the nature of rural and small town Ireland made the entire process very uncomfortable and I am sure that teachers will feel the rippling exponential impact of this for some time.

A number of events that transpired following the submission of school data to the DES were also highlighted as problematic.  The fact that the DES provided students with their rank order data came as a surprise to teachers and caused great disquiet. The removal, in late August, of school historical data from the standardisation process, following controversy about its use for calculated grades in the UK, was a source of great annoyance, especially among those working in high achieving schools. That said, some teachers noted that calculated grades had been an acceptable option in the context of a pandemic and that many students benefited from the fact that the grades awarded in 2020 were the highest ever.

 

Conclusion

The implementation of calculated grades in Ireland was a historic event as, for the first time since the introduction of the LCE in 1924, post-primary teachers engaged in the assessment of their own students for certification purposes. While difficulties arose, all those involved worked diligently to ensure that the class of 2020 could progress in their education and/or careers.  In 2021, Irish teachers will be asked to engage in a similar process while at the same time they will be preparing their students to take the traditional LC examinations.  The plan is that the two assessment systems will run side-by-side, and students will be given the option of choosing their best result in each subject.  Our hope is that findings from this survey will be useful to all those responsible for overseeing and implementing this challenging task.

References and Further Reading

Doyle, A., Z. Lysaght and M. O’Leary. 2021. Preliminary Findings from a Survey of Post- Primary Teachers Involved in the Leaving Certificate 2020. Calculated Grades Process in Ireland. Dublin: Centre for Assessment, Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE), Dublin City University. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.dcu.ie/sites/default/files/inline-files/calculated_grades_2020_preliminary_findings_v2_2.pdf

Doyle, A., Lysaght, Z., & O’Leary, M. 2021. High stakes assessment policy implementation in the time of COVID-19: The case of calculated grades in Ireland. Irish Educational Studies, 40. DOI: 10.1080/03323315.2021.1916565 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03323315.2021.1916565 

Prof. Michael O'Leary,

Prof. Michael O'Leary,

Prometric Chair in Assessment, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Michael O’Leary holds the Prometric Chair in Assessment at Dublin City University where he also directs the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE). He leads a programme of research at CARPE focused on assessment across all levels of education and in the workplace.

Dr. Audrey Doyle

Dr. Audrey Doyle

Assistant Professor, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Audrey Doyle is an assistant professor in the School of Policy and Practice in DCU. A former second-level principal of a large all-girls post-primary school in Dublin, she achieved her Ph.D. in Maynooth University in 2019. She now lectures on curriculum and assessment across a diversity of modules in DCU, contributing to the Masters in Leadership and the Doctorate in Education.

Dr. Zita Lysaght

Dr. Zita Lysaght

Assistant Professor, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Zita Lysaght is a member of the School of Policy and Practice and a Research Associate and member of the Advisory Board and Advisory Panel of CARPE at DCU. She coordinates and teaches classroom assessment and research methodology modules on undergraduate, masters and doctoral programmes and directs and supervises a range of research and doctoral projects.

Making Connections in Higher Education

Making Connections in Higher Education

Relational Pedagogies

What does it mean to teach and learn in higher education today? And more importantly, what should, and could, it mean? These are fundamental questions that speak to the values that underpin our practice, and that shape the cultures we foster and work within and the experiences our students have as they transition into and through university. In recent work, we have suggested that despite the dominant discourses that focus on student satisfaction, that depict higher education as a product, and construct students as consumers, meaningful interpersonal relationships remain of paramount importance to both students and staff. Meaningful connections enable learning, and situating connections as fundamental to higher education can offer openings to reorientate the way we experience our work as educators.

This is a theme we have explored in our recent work. For example, using a creative story-completion method, we examined how relationships impact upon students’ experiences of higher education and surfaced the importance of relational pedagogies, where meaningful relationships are positioned as critical to effective learning and teaching. In this article, we drew upon data from a longitudinal study, in which students were invited to complete stories that enabled them to surface experiences and discourses surrounding relationships at university. Our data suggest that meaningful connections are crucial to accessing support. Most notable within the data were a number of key themes that recurred within the students’ stories and interviews.

Firstly, students reported that they desired the individuality of their experiences to be recognised. This resonates with other recent work examining how students experience belonging in higher education and highlighting the situated, granularity, and diversity of students’ experiences. Such work indicates a need to move away from understanding students’ experiences as universal and uniform. Second, our article surfaced the importance of achieving connections with others, and the experience of alienation when interactions are not genuine, or when communication breaks down. For students, feeling that they are understood and that they matter can be a fundamental part of their learning experience. In a broader sense, we can understand learning as situated within a wider web of relations, in which students do not exist independently and in isolation, but intra-act (Barad 2007). This leads us to ask new questions about how we want to engage with both our students, with one another, and encourages us to look again at the broader networks in which learning occurs.

From Metrics to Mattering

However, relational pedagogies, and the need for students to experience a sense of mattering, are situated against a backdrop of tensions within higher education learning environments that mean that such relationships cannot always develop. The higher education landscape has shifted dramatically towards a predominant focus on accountability and student satisfaction. At the same time, a wider era of global economic and health uncertainty means that students and staff often work and learn in contexts that are challenging for engagement. Within the neoliberal university, the student is positioned as a self-governing agent, as a consumer. Staff are under increasing pressures and experiencing high levels of workload and burnout. Our findings suggest that a greater understanding of the need to interact care-fully with our students is essential. In particular, we suggest that students need to be understood as more than customers, with diverse experiences, and that adopting such an understanding may enable more generative pedagogic relationships to develop. However, we also advocate the need to prioritise relational pedagogies, to find spaces for new conversations around relational learning to take place, and, crucially, for staff to be recognised and supported in their work developing learning.

Future Directions

There is further work to be done to understand more about what meaningful connections for students look like. This is an evolving area, generating key questions such as how we might foster connections when learning and teaching, as well as what broader sociomaterial actors might be involved in learning interactions, and how might we trace these practices and relations. Future work on relational pedagogies, connections, and mattering, to be published in 2022, will examine further the role of the relational within higher education and will argue that such a perspective offers an enriched understanding of higher education pedagogies that can be potentially transformative in creating the higher education pedagogies and practices we might want to be a part of. For now, we suggest that asking who and what matters within higher education, as well as acknowledging the importance of the relational, may be the first steps in moving towards creating opportunities for supporting staff to prioritise their connections with students. This might be in terms of increasing time for student-staff interactions, prioritising the value of teaching within institutions (and providing further resourcing), attending to the diverse day-to-day practices of learning interactions, or even just creating spaces for conversations regarding relational pedagogies to take place.

References and Further Reading

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press. https://www.dukeupress.edu/meeting-the-universe-halfway 

Gravett, K. and Winstone, N. E. (2020). Making Connections: Authenticity and Alienation Within Students’ Relationships in Higher Education. Higher Education Research and Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1842335

Gravett, K., Kinchin, I. M. and Winstone, N. E. (2020) ‘More than Customers’: Conceptions of Students as Partners Held by Students, Staff, and Institutional Leaders. Studies in Higher Education, 45 (12), 2574-2587. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1623769 

Gravett, K. and Ajjawi, R. (2021) Belonging as Situated Practice. Studies in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2021.1894118

Gravett, K. (due 2022) Connections and Mattering in Higher Education: Reimagining Relational Pedagogy, Practice and Research.  London: Bloomsbury.

 

Dr Karen Gravett

Dr Karen Gravett

Lecturer in Higher Education

Dr Karen Gravett is a Lecturer in Higher Education at the Surrey Institute of Education, at the University of Surrey, UK. Her research focuses on staff and students’ experiences of learning and teaching in higher education. In particular, she explores the role of connections in learning, and the impact of discourses and narratives in higher education. Her work also considers how theoretically informed approaches (posthumanism; poststructuralism; sociomaterial studies) can help us to understand how we learn. Karen is co-convenor of the SRHE Learning, Teaching and Assessment network, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Associate Editor of the Higher Education Research and Development journal, and a member of the editorial board for Teaching in Higher Education.
Dr Naomi Winstone

Dr Naomi Winstone

Reader in Higher Education, Director of the Surrey Institute of Education

Dr Naomi Winstone is a Reader in Higher Education and Director of the Surrey Institute of Education at the University of Surrey, UK. Her research focuses on the processing and impact of instructional feedback and the influence of dominant discourses of assessment and feedback in policy and practice on the positioning of educators and students in feedback processes. She is also an Honorary Associate Professor in the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University, Australia. Naomi is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a UK National Teaching Fellow.