Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

On the 24th of February 2022, the world witnessed the most unexpected and unbelievable turn of events – a full-scale war in a country located in geographical Europe. Russian government and military, in cooperation with their partners in Belarus, launched a military assault on Ukraine’s infrastructure, civilians’ lives, freedoms, and sovereignty. Higher education (HE), along with other areas of life, has taken a backstage while people have been sheltering and/or fleeing to seek safety. Nevertheless, the backstage for Ukrainian wounded HE in these circumstances does not mean a full submergence by the war.

The number of damaged or destroyed educational establishments, including higher education institutions (HEIs), has been growing. Ukrainian academics and students are among those feeling the country seeking safety. Some students still hope there will be a chance to come back to their studies in Ukraine. Other members of the HE student community in Ukraine are staying, putting on a soldier’s uniform, and fighting for Ukraine. Some still manage to continue with their studies in various formats in the regions less affected by the war after the initial impact, as the Ukrainian government supports HEIs in ensuing uninterrupted payment of academics’ salaries.

The Ukrainian government and other HE stakeholders in Ukraine have been developing ways to support Ukrainian HE. For instance, on the 12th of March 2022, the Ukrainian Rectors’ Union supported the initiative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science: to cancel the requirement for final year upper-secondary school students to pass the final exams (State Final Attestation) as well as the External Education Assessment previously used to determine university entrance; to simplify the rules for applying for master’s degrees in 2022 and cancelling the final exam ‘Krok’ at medical universities; to give the right to HEIs to set the amount of tuition fees; to request that the government of Ukraine increases the number of students by 30% whose fees would be waived for 2022 start, particularly for prospective students from the most affected regions of Ukraine; to appeal to all universities to donate one day’s pro-rata salary of academics to supporting Ukrainian soldiers, etc.

Such measures are being actively discussed and further solutions are being negotiated at multiple meetings with various Ukrainian stakeholders and international guests. An example is the online Open Consultation on the 16th of May 2022 with presenters such as the rector from a Ukrainian university, the leader of the non-governmental organisation ‘Emotional Intelligence Institute’, the director of the Ukrainian Start-up Fund, and an Association Professor from Lithuania.

Ukrainian HEIs have received a lot of support from the international community that has been watching the impact of the war on Ukraine, including its HE sector. For example, following the bombing of Karazin University in Kharkiv in Ukraine on the 2nd of March 2022, universities from other countries (e.g., Austria, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Senegal, and Turkey) sent their letters of support to Karazin University, condemning Russia’s aggression.

In another example, the Estonian University of Tartu has generously offered mental health support to Ukrainian academics as well as support with applications for studies and academic jobs for Ukrainians. Similarly, Polish National Agency for Academic Exchanges (NAWA) has launched a program of support for Ukrainian undergraduate and postgraduate students to continue their studies in Poland free of charge between March and September 2022. Comparable conditions have been guaranteed to 51 Ukrainian researchers who are going to continue their work in Poland, supported by the Polish National Research Centre. These are a handful of examples to illustrate the measures that have been so generously developed by other countries to support the Ukrainian higher education community.

Such developments have been an expected chain reaction to other important milestones in the changing geopolitics of the international HE space. Early examples include:  the announcement of the European Commission on the 3rd of March 2022 about ceasing its cooperation with Russian entities in the area of education and research; on the 7th of March, Quacquarelli Symonds announced the plan to exclude Russian and Belarus HEIs from international university rankings; subsequently, the European Association for Quality Assurance in HE (ENQA) Board issued a statement on the 8th of March 2022 in response to the war about suspending the rights of their member and affiliate agencies in Russia. Organisations of different executive power in Ukraine and HEIs have also been actively pursuing justice in the face of the brute force of the invaders, holding consultations with multiple international organisations regarding breaking the ties with the aggressors in the area of HE. A couple of examples include appealing to the international-level coordinators of the European Education Research Association and the European Higher Education Area.

An appeal was made by the Ukrainian Education Research Association – the biggest and most influential national-level research organisation in Ukraine. It issued an open letter with a request for action to its sister organisations in the European Education Research Association (EERA) on the 4th of March 2022, following  EERA’s timely statement about condemning the war. In response, on the 13th of April 2022, EERA unanimously and unequivocally denounced the invasion of Ukraine, and announced a few generous ways of supporting educational research in Ukraine, such as cancelling the need for Ukraine to pay EERA membership fees, granting free entry to all Ukrainian researchers to the conferences organised by EERA, committing to continue working to develop funding opportunities for Ukrainian researchers, and more.

In another example, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine addressed the international Bologna Follow-up Group which coordinates the work of the European Higher Education Area on the 1st of March 2022 with a request for them to lobby for justice and break ties with Russia. A similar letter followed from the Ukrainian Education Research Association on the 28th of March 2022. European countries were divided in whether to break the ties with Russia in the area of research and education, including HE. This was because academic cooperation was still seen by some as a potential tool to save the lost diplomacy with Russia and override the disinformation campaign within the Russian borders. However, these optimistic voices were set aback by the statement made by Russia’s Rectors’ Union in early March, which openly supported Russia’s propaganda which masks the war under the disguise of ‘a special military operation’. In this statement, Russia’s Rectors’ Union maintains: ‘This is Russia’s decision to finally end the eight-year confrontation between Ukraine and Donbas, achieve the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, and thereby protect itself from growing military threats’. This disgrace on behalf of Russian rectors is disheartening.

This could not have gone unnoticed by the international Bologna Follow-up Group which met on the 11-12th of April 2022 and issued a statement about suspending the memberships of Russia and Belarus in the European Higher Education Area. This membership suspension did not mean, however, burning all the bridges with Russia and Belarus since Bologna Follow-up Group has asked in the statement everyone affiliated with the EHEA to offer support and protection to those actively condemning the war at their own risk.

This description of the examples above of the apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector suggests the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly. These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Research into this area is needed for evidence-based policy-making to support the Herculean task of the Ukrainian HE community to handle the situation and preserve its identity. It is also essential for developing further the so-called ‘protective factors’ currently in place, illustrated above, such as the generous support of other countries and external organisations, policy adjustments both in Ukraine and abroad, and technological opportunities connecting people and enabling communication and joint decisions. Pathways should also be explored for mitigating possible risks resulting from the developments, such as a potential brain drain in Ukraine, the marginalisation of those from Ukraine who do not receive support or those abroad who cannot benefit from the opportunities that have now been channelled to tackle the consequences of the war, and the difficulty of promoting democracy through HE in the world which the war has changed.

Key Messages

There has been an apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector.

These developments suggest the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly.

These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir is currently a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She previously worked at the University of Sheffield and the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Kushnir’s interdisciplinary research interests combine the following main areas: higher education, education policy, European integration, post-Soviet transition and migration. Her interdisciplinary approach has led to empirical and theoretical contributions, which reveal how education policy on the one hand and Europeanisation processes and post-Soviet transition on the other hand are interrelated and mutually shape one another.

Twitter: @IrynaKushnir7

Orcid: 0000-0003-0727-7208

University webpage: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/staff-profiles/education/iryna-kushnir

The Hero’s Journey – What PhD Students can learn from storytellers

The Hero’s Journey – What PhD Students can learn from storytellers

Are you an early educational researcher struggling with the three monumental philosophical questions – where am I, where do I come from, and where am I headed – regarding your project? Nice to meet you. I wrote this post for you.

Having experience as an educational researcher, I was recently asked to share it with my peers, who are also pursuing a master’s degree in pedagogical supervision – the majority of whom are teachers, and for whom this is a first-time experience undertaking educational research.

I revisited my PhD Hero’s Journey to share with them the joys and hardships of an educational research project. The hero’s journey refers to the mythological narrative archetype that has inspired storytellers throughout time and tale, and which can be summarized in three quintessential moments (Campbell, 1949):

Departure

Initiation

Return.

I hoped to acquaint my colleagues with some of the hero’s trials and troubles that are sure to come their way. I gathered ten lessons, which I also share with you, early educational researchers out there.

1. Be prepared for multitasking. Think of Camões, the 16th-century Portuguese poet, swimming for survival after a shipwreck while holding the manuscript of his epic poem, Os Lusíadas, above the waves, arm stretched out (legend says). While you’re trying to swim (for) your (personal, family, and professional) life, you will have an arm stretched out holding your opus.

2. Take care to conduct your research project and dissertation/thesis seriously, but without taking yourself too seriously. Despite all the swimming, your opus will not be perfect and will not change the (scientific and academic) world. Alas, the day after the public defense of your dissertation/thesis and after all your labors, the (scientific and academic) world will remain unaltered.

3. Learn to master the logistics. Get your tools together so you may: organize yourself; work daily on your research; write unabashedly (fear not the mystical blank page); avoid procrastination; and also, find your motto and put it to good use (remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so keep calm and breathe,because the journey is the reward).

4. Drop the baby analogy. Your research project and your dissertation/thesis are not a human being whose life is in your hands and with whom you are emotionally attached. It is an opus, which should and shall be open to questioning, discussion, and rebuttal.

5. Know when it is time to turn off your computer. If you struggle with this, ask a few good friends to be kind enough to ask you out for ice cream or a hike, and a good dose of ranting. Any excuse to make you get out of your sweatpants, comb your hair, and leave the house is more than welcome.

6. Create a support group. I am not referring to your “out-for-ice-cream-crew”, but to those who are making the same journey as you, and who understand what you are going through and what you are up against. Your mom, husband, kids, spiritual leader, and pets (the list goes on) are empathetic, and yet they cannot fully understand your hero’s journey. Reach out for your travel companions; this is a collaborative (not competitive) process.

7. Trust yourself. Your supervisor is in that rowboat alongside you, yet you are the one sculling in the first seat, the one responsible for steering the vessel; your supervisor’s job back in the stroke seat is to keep pace for the rowboat. If nobody rocks the boat, you both are rowing in the same direction, but you have better visibility and the duty-right to participate in the decision-making processes.

8. Cultivate positive attitudes – like curiosity, rigor, ethics, persistence, bravery, pride. You are making Science, so your point of arrival shall become the starting point of another researcher. Deliver a fine map. Instead of leaving the room as you found it, leave something beautiful behind. Contribute with something relevant.

9. Enjoy yourself. If you are too afraid to make mistakes or take steps back, you are missing out on the thrill of the adventure. Very often, in educational research, you will find the unpredicted. If your data differs from your hopes and dreams, it does not mean that you did something wrong; it means that you are doing it right.

10. Be ready to untangle the ball of thread and pass it on. You untangle as far as you can, and then you pass your ball of yarn on to another researcher, for them to unravel some more, and so on, in this craft that is to make Science. At the end of your research, you will have found some answers, and you will have found plenty of questions, and that is how it goes.

Each hero’s journey is unique, and while some of these lessons emerged for me, they may not save another hero’s life (metaphorically speaking). Perhaps conducting an educational research project is one of those things that you have to experience in order to fully understand the depths of its impact on you. Many factors influence an early researcher’s well-being and satisfaction during the research process (Levecque et al., 2017;Schmidt & Hansson, 2018; Sverdlik et al., 2018).

Regardless, early researchers out there on the heroic journey, with you, I share the one thing I know for sure regarding one’s trip down the educational research lane: at the end of the journey, the hero returns home. Wiser, tougher, smarter. More resilient, analytical, and courageous. Ready for another round. So, gather your tools, hold on tight, and just keep swimming.

Dr. Amanda Franco

Dr. Amanda Franco

Postdoctoral Fulbright scholar at North Carolina State University, USA

Dr. Amanda Franco is currently a postdoctoral Fulbright scholar at NC State University (USA), and her research aims to analyze the perceptions of faculty who participated in TH!NK, a program on critical thinking and creative thinking held at NC State, in the frame of faculty development, and its impact on their teaching practices. Her doctorate (2016) and post-doctorate (2020), both in Science of Education, focused on critical thinking and its promotion in higher education. She is pursuing a master’s degree in pedagogical supervision at University Aberta (Portugal).

References and Further Reading

Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Foundation.

Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048733317300422 

Schmidt, M., & Hansson, E. (2018). Doctoral students’ well-being: A literature review. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 13(1), 1508171. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17482631.2018.1508171 

Sverdlik, A., Hall, N. C., McAlpine, L., & Hubbard, K. (2018). Journeys of a PhD student and unaccompanied minors. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 361-388. http://ijds.org/Volume13/IJDSv13p361-388Sverdlik4134.pdf 

Hackathons: A Creative Approach to Developing Researchers and Solving Educational Challenges

Hackathons: A Creative Approach to Developing Researchers and Solving Educational Challenges

What do we expect from our education postgraduate research graduates in the 21st Century? The pace of society and its workplaces demands innovative, creative thinkers. This sits alongside all of the composite research skills they should acquire during their research degree (Ireland’s Nationals Skills Strategy 2025, DES; Doctoral Skills Statement, IUA).

During the slow burn of a research degree, it can be tricky to obtain fast-paced transversal skills, such as innovation, dynamism, and quick problem-solving. Events that allow research students to use strategies like design-based thinking (Razzouk & Shute, 2012) through challenge-based learning (CBL) tasks offer a way to do this. An example of one such event is a hackathon. A hackathon is a rapid, time-bound, pressurised problem-solving event.

Hackathons first emerged in the late 1990s. The ‘tech’ community broadly agrees that software programmers working on the export of cryptographic software in the OpenBSD project coined the phrase ‘hack’ to describe the exploratory work they were doing. Since then, Hackathons have been used widely in companies the world over; for example, they have led to the creation of many so-called ‘unicorn’ companies. More recently, their worth has been recognised in addressing worldwide challenges affecting climate and education

DCU Institute of Education held its own two-day virtual hackathon event called ‘Hack to Transform. This weekend event for postgraduate research students invited participants to solve/hack an education challenge for the 21st Century. In Hack to Transform, the focus was on one particular quadrant of The DCU IoE Postgraduate Researcher Development Framework: Personal Effectiveness Competencies. These intangible competencies include personal agility, teamwork, independence and creativity. Hack to Transform enabled research students to practise their creative problem-solving skills in order to create a pragmatic solution to the education challenge. The education challenge was broad enough to cover the range of research interests among the teams:

How can we ensure the most effective education experience for all in the 21st Century?

After one-minute pitches delivered by the students to their fellow participants on their proposed approaches, they voted on the five most workable solutions, using Tricider. They then formed five teams of three within which they could hack. The research students used the six stages of Design Thinking as a foundation for their approach to the challenge (Razzouk & Shute, 2012).  These are:

  1. Empathy – gaining an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. Setting aside your assumptions and gaining insight into users and their needs
  2. Define – stating users’ needs and problems. Defining the core needs and creating the problem statement.
  3. Ideate – challenging assumptions and creating ideas… thinking outside the box. Looking for alternative ways to solve the problem
  4. Prototype – creating some possible solutions
  5. Test – checking with key stakeholders regarding viability of prototype…seeing if solution meets stakeholders’ needs
  6. Launch – putting the solution out to ‘market’. This was not achievable in the short space of time on this event. 

Working in a new team was central to the event. Education research students can often operate in a workspace vacuum, working in a solitary independent manner on their research (Carpenter, 2012, Pyhalt Toom, Stubb, Lonka, 2012). Indeed, most of the students who participated in this event had never met one another. The feeling of togetherness (even virtually) generated in working towards a common goal intensively over the two days developed relationships among the students which didn’t exist previously. They relied on one another and pulled expertise from a wide-ranging pool of resources.

The teams of research students were each supported by a mentor from outside of the university and academic setting. This increased their awareness of differing audiences for their work and the importance of clarity in what they were suggesting as a solution.  Mentors were approached as they were experienced leaders in their fields. Some were international and some were from the tech industry, from where Hackathons are thought to have originally emerged 

Students were encouraged to present their solution to the assembled judging panel in an innovative way, so no slide decks! Some solutions included short films and interviews with key stakeholders. Judging criteria were provided in advance, and a scoring rubric was used by the five judges to pick the worthy winner: FUNdamential Education, which offered a novel approach to delivering education in the future.    

The experienced judging panel remarked on the “high standard and innovation of the student presentations despite the limited timeframe”. Both they and the mentors were impressed by the professionalism, creativity, and reflexivity exhibited by the first-time participants. Mentors observed the bi-directional learning that occurred between themselves and their team. Strong working relationships were built.  

Feedback from the students was also very positive, with many of them citing the “fun” they had and the opportunities they had to networkwith people with whom [they] otherwise would not be in contact” and “to work on creative ideas under pressure”. One student stated, “It has been fantastic to share this experience with people interested in solving big questions in education”. Many of the wider staff in the Faculty (including Management) attended the final presentations and prize-giving ceremony. Their presence and subsequent endorsement of the event, coupled with the positive feedback from participants, has ensured that Hack to Transform will be an annual fixture on the Faculty’s research events calendar into the future. 

This Nano CBL event provided an opportunity for the realisation of the vision for Doctoral study in the Institute of Education at DCU. That vision espouses the principle that postgraduate study does not operate within a blank space, but rather within a vibrant, dynamic, and interactive academic community. 

Dr Gillian Lake

Dr Gillian Lake

Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and Chair of Postgraduate Studies by Research at DCU Institute of Education

Gillian is an Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and Chair of Postgraduate Studies by Research at DCU Institute of Education. She is also a Fellow of Advance HE, (FHEA) in the UK.

She was a Primary Teacher in Ireland for many years before first undertaking an MSc in Child Development & Education (University of Oxford). She was then awarded the Elfrida Talbot Scholarship to undertake a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education at University of Oxford, focusing on language development and Early Childhood Education. She has continued to work in this area, both as a lecturer (DCU & Oxford Brookes University, UK) and a researcher.

Her current research projects in the area of Early Childhood Education have allowed her to collaborate with industry, the early childhood sector and international research partners. She was recently invited to join the review panel for the International Journal of Early Years Education and is a regular reviewer for the European Early Childhood Education Research Journal.

Gillian was shortlisted for both the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the DCU President’s Award for Engagement in 2021. She is DCU’s representative on the National Academic Integrity Network and has just secured SATLE Funding – €15, 000 (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) for a project which is investigating Awareness of Academic Integrity across all DCU stakeholders.

Profile DCU 

Is there a need to boost the generic skills of undergraduate students?

Is there a need to boost the generic skills of undergraduate students?

‘Climate change is not caused by humans, and it does not pose any threat to humans or the environment.’

Although there is widespread agreement among scientists that global climate change is real, and is caused by human activity, we often see and hear assertions of this kind. How can we differentiate between what is true and what is not, in an age when we are surrounded by real-time news and “fake news” distributed by traditional and new media?

This is where generic skills come into play. The list of generic skills is long, ranging from interaction skills to intercultural skills, and from leadership skills to emotional skills (Barrie, 2012; Tuononen et al., 2019; Virtanen & Tynjälä, 2018). In higher education, generic skills typically refer to higher-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking, and the ability to solve complex problems (Halpern, 2014). However, generic skills are important in all domains of life. Together with subject knowledge, generic skills help people to navigate daily life (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Hyytinen et al., 2019). They are also a means for continuous learning, and ultimately, for becoming informed global citizens.

Educational choices and growth environments matter

Photographer: University of Jyväskylä’

Our study on generic skills among Finnish undergraduate students (Ursin, Hyytinen & Silvennoinen, 2021) found that students showed substantial variation in the mastery of generic skills. Some undergraduate students displayed high levels of generic skills, and others had only a limited command of them. The differences seemed to be explained by factors in the students’ educational and socioeconomic background: undergraduate students with general upper secondary education, and whose childhood environment had encouraged reading, seemed to have the highest command of generic skills. Conversely, students with a vocational upper secondary qualification and whose early environment had supported less reading tended to have weaker generic skills. The findings highlight the benefits of a growth environment which foregrounds a culture of learning and reading.

To reach every citizen, generic skills should be taught from a very early age, and in various learning environments, but the improvement of generic skills should continue into undergraduate studies and beyond.

Enhancing generic skills in higher education

Photographer: University of Jyväskylä’

The life that one has lived does matter. Yet much can be done during higher education to enhance generic skills (e.g., Heijtjes et al., 2014; Hyytinen et al., 2019; Virtanen & Tynjälä, 2018). They do not differ from any other skills: generic skills can be learned if they are actively practiced, comprehensively built into undergraduate programmes, and vigorously supported in teaching and learning.

It is important to bear in mind that there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution or detailed step-by-step guidelines on how to improve generic skills in undergraduate studies. Conversely, the entire teaching-learning environment needs to be rethought and redesigned so that it better contributes to the development of generic skills. The learning of generic skills requires support, continuous feedback to students, and a combination of theory and practice in multiple course contexts (Virtanen & Tynjälä, 2018). Learning occurs when the teaching of generic skills is explicitly embedded in several courses throughout the curriculum, along with feedback to students on how to improve and build their skills. Otherwise, the topic runs the risk of remaining incidental or isolated (e.g. Hyytinen at al., 2019; Jääskelä, Nykänen & Tynjälä, 2018).

Unfortunately, higher education teachers are not necessarily well prepared to teach and assess generic skills or not in a way that best supports the development of the skills (Barrie, 2012; Mah & Ifenthaler, 2017). Teachers need a clear understanding of what generic skills are and why they are essential. In order to develop generic skills in their students, teachers need support in gaining pedagogical competencies that will enable them to integrate the elements of generic skills in their teaching and assessment practices (Hyytinen et al., 2019; Jenert, 2014).

Implementation of generic skills in higher education is a joint effort

Successful implementation of generic skills in study programmes requires an active interplay between leaders, teachers, and students in higher education:

  • Leaders of higher education institutions must recognize the importance of generic skills in study programmes and provide support for teachers and students.
  • Teachers in higher education institutions must see generic skills as equally important as the subject they teach; hence, they must be willing to include generic skills in their teaching and assessment (Hyytinen et al., 2019; Virtanen & Tynjälä, 2018).
  • Students need to take responsibility for their own learning; hence, they must be willing to invest time and effort in the development of generic skills (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Evens et al., 2013).
Featured Image: Photographer: University of Jyväskylä’

Other blog posts on similar topics:

References and Further Reading

Arum, R., & Roksa, J. 2011. Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo10327226.html

Barrie, S. C. (2012) A research-based approach to generic graduate attributes policy, Higher Education Research & Development, 31:1, 79-92, doi:10.1080/07294360.2012. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07294360.2012.642842

Evens, M., Verburgh, A. & Elen, J. 2013. Critical thinking in college freshmen: The impact of secondary and higher education. International Journal of Higher Education 2(3), 139-151. https://www.sciedupress.com/journal/index.php/ijhe/article/view/3002/1876

Halpern, D. F. 2014. Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. New York, London: Psychology Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315885278

Heijtjes, A., van Gog, T., Leppink, J. & F., Paas, F. 2014. Improving critical thinking: Effects of dispositions and instructions on economics students’ reasoning skills. Learning and Instruction 29, 31-42. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2013.07.003

Hyytinen, H., Toom, A., & Shavelson, R. J. (2019). Enhancing scientific thinking through the development of critical thinking in higher education. In M. Murtonen, & K. Balloo (Eds.), Redefining Scientific Thinking for Higher Education: Higher-Order Thinking, Evidence-Based Reasoning and Research Skills (pp. 59-78). Palgrave Macmillan. https://researchportal.helsinki.fi/files/130928289/Enhancing_Scientific_Thinking_Through_the_Development_of_Critical.pdf

Jenert, T. (2014). Implementing-oriented study programmes at university: The challenge of academic culture. Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung, 9(2), 1–12. Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.unisg.ch/publications/230455

Jääskelä, P., Nykänen, S. & Tynjälä, P. 2018. Models for the development of generic skills in Finnish higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 42(1), 130-142. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2016.1206858

Mah, D-K. & Ifenthaler, D. (2017). Academic staff perspectives on first-year students’ academic competencies. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 9 (4), 630-640. doi: 10.1108/JARHE-03-2017-0023. https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/emerald-publishing/academic-staff-perspectives-on-first-year-students-academic-WMDLFmRY8t?impressionId=5d089ad426048&i_medium=docview&i_campaign=recommendations&i_source=recommendations

Tuononen, T., Parpala, A. & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2019). Graduates’ evaluations of usefulness of university education, and early career success – a longitudinal study of the transition to working life. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(4), 581-595. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1524000

Ursin, J., Hyytinen, H. & Silvennoinen, K (eds.). 2021. Assessment of undergraduate students’ generic skills in Finland: Findings of the Kappas! project. Publications of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland 2021:31. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-263-901-1

Virtanen, A. & Tynjälä, P. 2018. Factors explaining the learning of generic skills: a study of university students’ experiences. Teaching in Higher Education, 24 (7), 880–894. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2018.1515195.

 

Dr Jani Ursin

Dr Jani Ursin

Senior Researcher at the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Dr Jani Ursin is a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. His research has focused on academic work, the assessment of higher education learning outcomes, mergers of higher education institutions, and quality assurance in higher education. He is a former Link Convenor of EERA Network 22 (Research in Higher Education), after which he represented all the networks on the EERA Council. His profile is at: https://ktl.jyu.fi/en/staff/ursin-jani

Dr Heidi Hyytinen

Dr Heidi Hyytinen

Senior Lecturer in University Pedagogy at the Centre for University Teaching and Learning, University of Helsinki, Finland

Dr Heidi Hyytinen is a senior lecturer in university pedagogy at the Centre for University Teaching and Learning, University of Helsinki, Finland. Her research interests include performance-based assessment, generic skills, critical thinking, self-regulation, and pedagogy in higher education. Her profile is at: https://researchportal.helsinki.fi/en/persons/heidi-hyytinen

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.