Two Excellent Blog Posts from FINE Members: Reflections on the 2018 FINE Events in New York City

Neera R. Jain

University of Auckland

In line with the AERA 2018 conference theme, this year’s FINE Forum focused on the topic The dreams, possibilities, and necessities of teaching in higher education. Too often positioned as secondary to research, throughout the day we were encouraged to recast teaching as central to our roles as academics in education. As such, our work for the day was to engage in an exploration of how we teach, prioritize teaching, and talk about teaching in our academic careers. In this post I share three key points I took away from the Forum, and a provocation for academic leadership.

First, consider teaching and research as mutually constitutive. In a panel of U21 educational leaders, Associate Professor Susan Bridges (Assistant Dean, Curriculum Innovation, University of Hong Kong) and Professor Mark Beauchamp (Associate Dean, Research, University of British Columbia) discussed how they achieved this in differing ways. Dr. Bridges was able to apply her research knowledge in the area of pedagogy to a role at a Dental faculty (a completely different subject area) to reshape their problem-based learning curriculum. Dr. Beauchamp explained his approach to this aim: attract students to his research through his dynamic teaching style, then using group processes to develop research ideas. In effect, melding teaching, research mentorship, and doing actual research. As a burgeoning academic, I can see real benefits to these approaches—both in the opportunity to put research to work in real learning spaces, and to consider how to build synergy between teaching and research.

Second, teach like a troublemaker. In the same panel, Professor Andrew Noyes (Head of School, University of Nottingham) encouraged us to bring critical scholarship into the classroom to trouble students’ thinking as a way to develop their critical consciousness in/for a neoliberal world. He recommended contemplation of key questions in service of this goal: Whom do we teach? Why are we teaching them? What are we trying to achieve? How do you work with people “not like you” and those who may have different goals? He encouraged integrating scholarship into this contemplation, such as Bourdieu’s work on social reproduction in education. This advice resonated with my commitments to social justice in my research and professional life, and sparked my thinking about how I could put these commitments to work in the classroom setting.

Third, develop a compelling teaching philosophy. The second half of the day was devoted to the question “Who am I as a teacher?” We engaged in discussion and activity around developing a teaching philosophy to coalesce our understanding of what we do (or aim to do) when we teach. Essentially, a teaching philosophy is a 1-2 page first-person “self-portrait” of you as a teacher that is carefully tailored to the specific job you are applying to. Dr. Jennifer Tatebe, Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland and member of the FINE Leadership Team, encouraged us to consider a unique moment in our lives as teachers or learners that might exemplify how or why we teach the way we do, and how we might distinguish ourselves in writing that story. As a doctoral student who does not come from a teaching background, I recognized the process of developing the teaching philosophy as an important reflective exercise to think deeply about what I aim to do in teaching, what I am already doing that is working, and what areas of growth I might pursue while still on my doctoral journey and into an academic career.

Finally, a provocation for academic leaders in education: If we believe in the importance of teaching, how are you ensuring that it is a respected and nurtured aspect of academic work? How do you ensure doctoral students and early career researchers in particular have the opportunity and support to develop the necessary skills to become excellent teachers in the higher education setting? Rather than academics finding creative ways to make teaching count, how can this be structured into the way we do academia?

Thank you to the FINE leadership team for organizing an engaging and thought-provoking Forum, and for the U21 academic leaders who shared their experiences with us during the day and throughout the weekend.

In line with the AERA 2018 conference theme, this year’s FINE Forum focused on the topic The dreams, possibilities, and necessities of teaching in higher education. Too often positioned as secondary to research, throughout the day we were encouraged to recast teaching as central to our roles as academics in education. As such, our work for the day was to engage in an exploration of how we teach, prioritize teaching, and talk about teaching in our academic careers. In this post I share three key points I took away from the Forum, and a provocation for academic leadership.

First, consider teaching and research as mutually constitutive. In a panel of U21 educational leaders, Associate Professor Susan Bridges (Assistant Dean, Curriculum Innovation, University of Hong Kong) and Professor Mark Beauchamp (Associate Dean, Research, University of British Columbia) discussed how they achieved this in differing ways. Dr. Bridges was able to apply her research knowledge in the area of pedagogy to a role at a Dental faculty (a completely different subject area) to reshape their problem-based learning curriculum. Dr. Beauchamp explained his approach to this aim: attract students to his research through his dynamic teaching style, then using group processes to develop research ideas. In effect, melding teaching, research mentorship, and doing actual research. As a burgeoning academic, I can see real benefits to these approaches—both in the opportunity to put research to work in real learning spaces, and to consider how to build synergy between teaching and research.

Second, teach like a troublemaker. In the same panel, Professor Andrew Noyes (Head of School, University of Nottingham) encouraged us to bring critical scholarship into the classroom to trouble students’ thinking as a way to develop their critical consciousness in/for a neoliberal world. He recommended contemplation of key questions in service of this goal: Whom do we teach? Why are we teaching them? What are we trying to achieve? How do you work with people “not like you” and those who may have different goals? He encouraged integrating scholarship into this contemplation, such as Bourdieu’s work on social reproduction in education. This advice resonated with my commitments to social justice in my research and professional life, and sparked my thinking about how I could put these commitments to work in the classroom setting.

Third, develop a compelling teaching philosophy. The second half of the day was devoted to the question “Who am I as a teacher?” We engaged in discussion and activity around developing a teaching philosophy to coalesce our understanding of what we do (or aim to do) when we teach. Essentially, a teaching philosophy is a 1-2 page first-person “self-portrait” of you as a teacher that is carefully tailored to the specific job you are applying to. Dr. Jennifer Tatebe, Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland and member of the FINE Leadership Team, encouraged us to consider a unique moment in our lives as teachers or learners that might exemplify how or why we teach the way we do, and how we might distinguish ourselves in writing that story. As a doctoral student who does not come from a teaching background, I recognized the process of developing the teaching philosophy as an important reflective exercise to think deeply about what I aim to do in teaching, what I am already doing that is working, and what areas of growth I might pursue while still on my doctoral journey and into an academic career.

Finally, a provocation for academic leaders in education: If we believe in the importance of teaching, how are you ensuring that it is a respected and nurtured aspect of academic work? How do you ensure doctoral students and early career researchers in particular have the opportunity and support to develop the necessary skills to become excellent teachers in the higher education setting? Rather than academics finding creative ways to make teaching count, how can this be structured into the way we do academia?

Thank you to the FINE leadership team for organizing an engaging and thought-provoking Forum, and for the U21 academic leaders who shared their experiences with us during the day and throughout the weekend.

Tanya Lubicz-Nawrocka 

University of Edinburgh

I had a fantastic experience, representing Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh at the FINE meeting and events around the AERA conference in New York last month. It was an extremely valuable experience for networking, hearing interesting talks, and also gaining helpful tips to enhance the PhD experience. Several themes emerged throughout the FINE discussions, and below I share my reflections and the tips which were shared with me throughout the events. I hope you find them as helpful as I did.

Depth, breadth, and interdisciplinarity

It was highly recommended to have not just breadth but also depth in your work and, specifically, programmatic research that builds coherently and extends on previous work. Furthermore, reading outside of your subject area, engaging in interdisciplinary work, and taking risks by being open to different opportunities and interdisciplinary work was highly emphasised. For instance, Associate Professor Susan Bridges (Assistant Dean for Curriculum Innovation, University of Hong Kong) spoke about the value of making career choices based on what opportunities are most exciting or fun, and sometimes unexpected experiences or roles can have a massive, positive impact on your career and satisfaction of working in academia.

Although the AERA conference is focused on current educational research in the USA and attendees are therefore predominantly American, it was refreshing that the FINE meetings connected colleagues based at Universitas21 institutions around the world. The FINE sessions emphasised the fact that internationalisation is an opportunity and not an imposition, and underlined the importance of interdisciplinary work. Especially for those of us who are engaging in research on more controversial topics that unpick power dynamics (for example, my recent research article on challenging the status quo to embed partnership), it was reassuring that the established academics at the FINE meetings encouraged early career researchers to be true to their motivation for joining the academy. In this sense, networking and building relationships with colleagues was seen as a powerful way to break down barriers so that others may be more receptive to the more controversial aspects of our work.

Networking and collegiality: draw from the power of groups

The FINE Forum, joint symposia with the AERA Graduate Student Council, and the breakfast and reception events were great opportunities for networking with other PhD students from around the world as well as more experienced colleagues. I really enjoyed making new connections with researchers from the University of Auckland, University of British Columbia, University of Connecticut, and University of Nottingham, as well as reconnecting with a colleague from Hong Kong University.

While attending conferences, presenting your research and publishing, it was highly recommended that postgraduate and early career researchers take the opportunity to contribute to and learn from the academic community. This includes valuing feedback from peer reviewers and colleagues to help you improve your work. It also includes engaging in and drawing on the communities within our university departments.

Crafting your teaching identity

Gladis Kersaint (Dean of Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut) emphasised the importance of teaching in a scholar’s career. She noted that the focus tends to be on one’s research identity (which was a theme re-emerging throughout FINE events) but it is important to gain teaching experience (even if guest lecturing or teaching in other areas).

Later in the FINE meetings we learnt more from Alison Milner and Jennifer Tatebe (FINE Leadership Team Members) about how to articulate our teaching philosophy well to potential employers. They emphasised that the teaching philosophy statement is a self-reflective portrait of your teaching beliefs that demonstrates your key teaching experiences and shows understanding of your students. It is not only important for recruiters but also for your own professional development. It should include a few key teaching moments that illustrate your teaching philosophy, show synergies with your research, and – especially if being submitted with a job application – draw out synergies with the institution’s values and priorities.

Research for meaningful impact

Everyone focused on the importance of publishing to advance your career in academia and share your work. However, it is also important to have meaningful impact beyond academia by informing the public of your research and its implications. This includes sharing your work on Twitter, blogs such as this one, or newspapers. An example was that, for every journal article you publish, you should either write a blog post or opinion editorial piece to share your work more broadly.

Ways to ‘do it all’ – co-creation of research

Both Marc Beauchamp (Associate Dean of Research, University of British Columbia) and Andrew Noyes (Head of School of Education, University of Nottingham) shared insightful reflections about engaging in the co-creation of research with students. This is a topic near and dear to my heart since my PhD research focuses on student/staff partnerships in co-creating the higher education curriculum (for an overview if you are interested, see my three-minute thesis talk on my blog).

Marc spoke about ‘teaching like a rockstar’, by which he meant excellent student-centred teaching where faculty and tutors can work in partnership with undergraduate students to mentor them and involve them in their research. Andy emphasised ‘teaching like a troublemaker’, namely, not just focusing on efficient, ‘what works’ teaching methods, but developing students’ criticality. He suggested one way of doing this is to avoid dichotomising teaching and research and by engaging in research through teaching by involving students.

We discussed how there has been so little resolution in the teaching/research dichotomy in the last few generations so perhaps co-creation is a solution by involving students more in teaching decision-making and in research. In this regard, Rowena Arshad (Head of Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh) spoke powerfully about the importance of knowing and trusting our students, and the opportunities that co-creation can present when working in partnership with students.

Concluding remarks

The FINE meetings and events surrounding the AERA conference provided valuable panel discussions, networking opportunities, and food for thought. It was great to be part of the FINE collaborations with the AERA Graduate Student Council and to have the opportunity to attend such a wide range of conference sessions at AERA. I really enjoyed hearing tips from senior academics. It is therefore appropriate to end on their wise suggestions to firstly, own both the privilege and the responsibilities that come from being part of academia and, secondly, to enjoy the journey as an early career researcher by exploring and maintaining the feeling of excitement which resonates with our original motivations for doing a PhD.

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